Detroit Lions fans have had a tenuous relationship with Pro Football Focus lately. First, the site snubbed Ezekiel Ansah from their Top 101 players list. Then the site dug themselves deeper, explaining why they believe Ansah isn't as good as his stats say he is. Then they listed Eric Ebron as a "bust." Well, things are about to get much more combative between PFF and Lions fans.
The site released their NFC projections for the 2016 season. If you don't see the Lions, keep scrolling. Keep going. Keep going. That's right, PFF believes the Lions will finish tied for last with a 4-12 record this season. Here is their reasoning:
On offense, the Lions lost most of their highly-graded players. While some might consider 2015 a down year for Calvin Johnson, he still graded in the top-10 for wide receivers, at 89.4. The Lions also let running back Joique Bell and offensive linemen Manuel Ramirez leave. Ramirez had the highest grade among the Lions’ O-linemen in 2015. The defense should improve with the return of DeAndre Levy. His run-stop percentage of 14.1 led all 4-3 outside linebackers in 2014. They will miss retired cornerback Rashean Mathis, who only allowed seven touchdowns in his three years with the Lions. Detroit is a team that is now missing their star power, and they’ll hope new stars develop in their absence.
Now I'm not going to dog a site for a prediction like 4-12. In fact, I think that is certainly within the realm of possibilities for the Lions' future. But the rationale here makes little sense. Let's break it down.
Calvin Johnson is gone
Yes. We know. Sure, it's important to note, and Megatron's retirement will undoubtedly hurt the offense, but this point has been driven into the ground. The Lions' offense hasn't been great with or without Johnson, so the pain will be mitigated.
Joique Bell and Manny Ramirez are gone
This is one of the stranger points PFF tries to make. The Lions are woefully thin at defensive end, tight end and even at linebacker. But the site harps on Joique Bell -- a player who remains unsigned and averaged just 3.5 yards per carry last year -- and Manny Ramirez -- who didn't start the majority of last year and has been replaced by Geoff Schwartz and a couple draft picks.
If they're trying to argue that the Lions running game will be worse this year, I vehemently disagree. Detroit had the worst rushing attack in the league last year (by yards), but come back in 2016 with a completely revamped offensive line and a young running back with another year under his belt. The Lions' running game has nowhere to go but up.
The Lions will miss Rashean Mathis
The Lions played without Rashean Mathis for the final nine games of the season and went 6-3 during that stretch. Mathis, as great as he was in 2013 and 2014, had clearly lost a step last year. When the Lions needed someone to step up in his absence, Nevin Lawson and Quandre Diggs did a more-than-admirable job. The Lions went from allowing 268.9 passing yards and 28.6 points per game with Mathis, to 211.9 passing yards and just 22.2 points per game. I think the Lions will be fine without the soon-to-be 36-year-old corner.