To get ready for the 2013 NFL season, which officially kicks off in one week, SB Nation sent out nine questions for each NFL blog to answer. Below are my answers for the 2013 Detroit Lions.
1. Who is the easiest player on the roster to root for?
Calvin Johnson. To me, he's the wide receiver version of Barry Sanders. He's the best player at his position and one of the best players in general in all of the NFL. He's dominant on the field and a great guy off it. What's more, he's constantly working to make himself even better. He's the Lions' best player and definitely the easiest to root for in my mind.
2. If you could buy a ticket to just one game this year...
The Lions' Thanksgiving matchup with the Green Bay Packers is certainly enticing, but I have to go with the Week 15 game against the Baltimore Ravens. The atmosphere should be electric at Ford Field since this is a Monday night game. With the defending Super Bowl champions coming to town and the Lions hopefully in a fight to make the playoffs, this jumps out as having the potential to be Detroit's most exciting game of the season.
3. Which veterans could be cut before the season due to salary cap issues?
I don't expect there to be any cap casualties at this point. The Lions covered this issue by releasing Kyle Vanden Bosch and Stephen Peterman back in February and by restructuring various deals. Matthew Stafford's new contract also helped the Lions' salary cap situation quite a bit.
4. Which second year player is going to make the biggest leap?
Hopefully Riley Reiff. He got quite a bit of playing time last season, but he was mainly used as the Lions' sixth offensive lineman. Now he's tasked with being their starting left tackle with Jeff Backus retiring in March. Protecting Stafford is obviously of huge importance to the Lions, and Reiff needs to take a big step forward, as does the offensive line in general. With three new starters on the O-line, there is a lot of pressure on some new faces to succeed.
Another strong contender to make the biggest leap is wide receiver Ryan Broyles. He's coming back from another torn ACL, but the hope is that he will become one of Stafford's go-to targets once fully healthy.
5. What are the odds of your head coach getting fired?
If the Lions don't go at least 8-8 this year, it'd be tough to envision a scenario where Jim Schwartz isn't fired. At some point you just have to move on, and four losing seasons in five years would be more than enough reason to change things up and go in a different direction.
If the Lions are able to go 9-7 or better, I'd expect Schwartz to be retained. He did just get a contract extension before the 2012 season, and if he's able to get things back on track by putting this team into contention for the playoffs, I'd imagine he will return. Some may view this as a playoffs or bust type of season, but considering how tough the NFC is, simply getting back into the mix for a playoff spot could very well be enough for Schwartz to retain his job.
If the Lions go 8-8, it really seems like 50-50 when it comes to his status for 2014. On the one hand, the Lions will have shown improvement from their 4-12 season in 2012, but will there be enough improvement to justify giving Schwartz a sixth season? It's tough to say. I suppose it will all come down to how the Lions get to 8-8 if that particular scenario plays out.
6. What franchise or NFL records could be broken this season?
Stafford already owns most of the Lions' passing records despite only entering the league in 2009 and missing a good deal of playing time in his first two years. One record he doesn't have just yet is the Lions' all-time mark for passing yards, but he should pass Bobby Layne this season. Stafford is only 2,908 yards behind first place, and considering he has thrown for more than 10,000 total yards over the last two seasons, that's really nothing for him.
Megatron is also in position to break some all-time records for the Lions this year. He's only 1,338 yards behind Herman Moore for the most career yards receiving in Lions history, and Johnson only needs 9 touchdowns to pass Moore on the most career touchdown receptions list for the franchise.
On the NFL level, Johnson is looking to follow up his record-breaking performance from last year with another excellent season. He broke Jerry Rice's single-season receiving record in 2012, and this year he has his sights set on hitting 2,000 yards receiving in one season.
7. Which rookies will see regular playing time this year?
Four 2013 draft picks are expected to be starters this season for the Lions: defensive end Ziggy Ansah, cornerback Darius Slay, offensive guard Larry Warford and punter Sam Martin. Other 2013 draft picks like defensive end Devin Taylor and tight end Michael Williams (once he returns from a broken hand injury) should also see regular playing time for the Lions, and undrafted free agent tight end Joseph Fauria could see quite a bit of playing time as well if he makes the 53-man roster.
8. Predict the order of finish in your division.
I've got the Packers continuing their reign as the NFC North's best team with an 11-5 record. I have the Lions finishing second this year (see the next answer for more on that) and the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings tying for third at 7-9.
9. What do you expect your season-end record will be?
8-8. The Lions have made improvements on offense, defense and special teams, and quite truthfully, they weren’t as bad as their record suggested last year. That’s why I expect them to play more like the playoff team we saw in 2011, although with a tough schedule awaiting them, a return trip to the postseason seems unlikely.