Do you ever wonder what football experts outside of Detroit think about the Lions? I know I do. I, for one, think that Detroit football media is the very best there is. We have great beat writers delivering the news and we have great bloggers dishing out the stats and opinions.
But I also think we tend to live in a bubble when it comes to the Lions. They’re a team you so rarely hear about on ESPN or the NFL Network, for example. You’re much more likely to see them wax poetically about Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, or backups named Nick Foles or that Tom Brady guy. Man, they love Touchdown Tommy.
You only ever hear about the Lions if they’re part of some compilation video package or if they’re tangentially mentioned in a piece somewhere. It usually has something to do with Matthew Stafford, and that’s okay. He should be written and talked about.
I could have asked fans outside of Detroit what they thought, but unless you want to talk about the 2008 season or how many wins Matthew Stafford has against winning teams, people outside of Detroit really have no idea what to think about the current Lions.
But dammit, I want to know more. So I did the only thing I could think of: I annoyed people on Twitter until they gave me their takes. I asked each of them two questions.
- What are their thoughts on the Lions? and
- Are the Lions playoff contenders?
So without further adieu, here’s a smattering of Lions takes from writers that don’t cover the Lions.
Around the NFC North
We’ll start off in the division. Do to legal stuff, I’m contractually obligated to start off with a team the Lions own. So here’s what the Windy City Gridiron’s Lester Wiltfong Jr.
“General thoughts on the Lions are that they are a good football team, and if their new head coach can turn their defense around they could be a surprise in the NFC. But ultimately, the NFC North will come down to the Minnesota Vikings and the Green Bay Packers. I don’t see the Lions crashing the playoff party with those two teams in the division.”
Okay, let’s go to the Prince part of the division with a few takes. Let’s start off with Zone Coverage’s Arif Hasan.
“Good, not great. I think they’re in a very broad third tier behind the top NFC teams -- behind the Rams, Vikings, Eagles and Saints, but also within striking distance of the Packers, Falcons, Panthers and so on. In the AFC, they would be a fun team to keep track of.
Absolutely. There’s enough movement in the NFC North that one can pose open questions about the Vikings offense or Packers defense and we know that there’s a good chance the “top tier” could falter -- what if Goff is figured out or if the Saints secondary lost confidence? That plus real concerns about anyone contending for a wild card spot make me think the Lions have as good a shot as most of the NFC”
How about J.R. from Inside The Pylon? What does he think?
“Overall, I don’t think anyone really knows what to make of the Lions this upcoming year. With Caldwell out and Patricia now in, the philosophy and head coaching styles are a complete 180. I think they can be a good team though if their defense (pass rush) takes another step forward and if they finally establish a running game and find a solid mixture between Blount/Johnson/Abdullah/Riddick.
The NFC North is the toughest division in football and I don’t think the Lions are ahead of Green Bay or Minnesota right now, but similar to last year, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if they split the season series with either one or even both teams. I think their ceiling is a 10-6 team right now though.”
Lastly in Minnesota, we’ll go to Pro Football Spot’s Ali Siddiqui to get his thoughts.
“Lions offense is scary with Stafford, Jones and Tate. Big question is can their defense show enough improvement. It’ll be very interesting to see how they do with new head coach Matt Patricia especially defensively.
They have the talent to be contenders, but also play in a tough division. Vikings will be strong again and the Packers have Aaron Rodgers back. The NFC will also be strong again as a whole too, especially with the Eagles and Rams adding more pieces. I don’t think they win the division but should be in the wildcard race again.”
Alright how about we head over to the Packers side and talk to the Green Bay version of me. Matt Matonich of ACME Packing Company.
“A powerful offense that just needs to find a running game as a complement. Good receivers and a damn good QB. The loss of Ebron is insignificant, imo. A couple very good DBs, but the defense needed help. Patricia being a defensive-minded coach should contribute as well as having a healthy Ziggy along with a 2nd year leap Jarrad Davis.
Absolutely. The North is going to be a bloodbath this year. Could be like the NFC South last year with 3 playoff teams getting in.”
Alright one last divisional guy. Let’s talk to Pack To The Future’s Brian Fonfara.
“I’ve never had the same animosity toward them as I did the Vikings and Bears. They were bad my whole life, so when they finally started winning some games and made a playoff appearance, I was actually kind of rooting for them. Any animosity I have had for them has been because I hated watching Barry Sanders and Calvin Johnson be wasted on such bad teams. That and the dirty BS Ndamukong Suh used to pull. I enjoy the rivalry we’ve made over the last 5 years or so, though.
I’d say yes. Some things have to go right for them and wrong for the Packers or Vikings, but they have the talent to at least be labeled as Wild Card contenders. Biggest hurdle has to be coaching. It’s been a problem for so long. Now you got someone from the Bill Belichick coaching tree. It may work out, but his disciples don’t have a great track record. I have them penciled in for 3rd in the division.”
Alright, it’s time to go around the league. Let’s start with Bleacher Report’s Brad Gagnon. What does he have to say about the Lions?
“They’re a team that has enough talent to make a Super Bowl run if Matthew Stafford takes another leap forward, but also enough holes and weaknesses to lose 10-plus games if Stafford doesn’t deliver. They’re as average as it gets before considering their quarterback, but Stafford is coming off a strong year and could easily explode. That absolutely makes them a playoff contender, but in one of the toughest divisions in the better of the two conferences it’ll still be a hell of a challenge for them to get that first playoff win in 849 years.”
You really have to like the way Brad starts off there, but then he hits every Lions fan in the face with a Sweet Chin Music at the end. Let’s see what Forbes and SB Nations Andrea Hangst is thinking.
“I think that the Lions have a good passing game and an underrated quarterback in Matt Stafford. I like the moves they made this offseason to improve the run game. The defense is still a major question mark to me, and while Matt Patricia was brought in as head coach in part to make an improvement there, on-paper is very different than on-field. I’m not sure what that side of the ball will look like this season until it happens.
Granted that the Minnesota Vikings-Kirk Cousins marriage goes as they both hope, that the Packers many defensive additions work out mostly for the best and the Bears retain a top 10-defense while the offense takes a leap forward, it will be a very competitive NFC North. But the Lions can also be competitive, as long as both the run games and defense are truly improved. It will be tough, but I cannot call it impossible.”
Okay, I’m sensing a theme here with the run game. And every single person that mentions it is right. Will Brandon Lee Gowton of Bleeding Green Nation agree?
“I think the Lions are one of those teams floating around in the middle of the pack. I don’t have a strong feeling about where to place them. They have a franchise quarterback in Matthew Stafford, which is important, and some nice pieces such as Darius Slay, Ziggy Ansah, etc. I don’t really know what to make of the coaching, though. It seems like Jim Bob Cooter might not be the answer and I’m in wait-and-see mode on Matt Patricia.
I do think the Lions could be in the mix for a wild card but I don’t see them winning the NFC North. I think the Packers (with a healthy Aaron Rodgers) and Vikings are better teams. I don’t think it’s impossible the Lions could end up being better than one of them but I’d be pretty surprised if they finished above both of those teams.”
Man this starting to hurt a little. Maybe Cory Woodroof of The Falcoholic has some nice things to say.
“The Lions always feel like they’re a good football team missing something vital to get them in the conversation to being one of the NFC’s better teams – it’s a thing that costs them, like, two or three games a year, so it’s sizable enough to hold them back, but not enough where a good offseason couldn’t fix it.
The run game hasn’t been particularly good for quite some time, but a combo of LeGarrette Blount, Theo Riddick, Ameer Abdullah and rookie Kerryon Johnson should finally give them some stability at a spot long barren of consistency. The passing game’s never been an issue, with Matt Stafford always game for slinging it at will. The secondary is also, obviously, a strength, with Darius Slay emerging as one of the league’s premiere corners.
Outside of a revamped ground attack, the Lions will have to hope the trenches hold up. On paper, the offensive line is quite good, particularly with Frank Ragnow (one of the sincerely underrated 2018 draft picks), but they’ll have to show it all come together.
The front seven is the real bugaboo, with the unit an Ezekiel Ansah injury away from looking fairly paltry. A’Shawn Robinson is going to need to take the next step, and Anthony Zettel is going to need to keep up being Ansah’s surprise second fiddle. The linebacking core is also a bit questionable, with 2017 first rounder Jarrad Davis desperately needed to come into his own, and fast, particularly with Tahir Whitehead out of the picture.
With a new coaching staff, refreshed runners and sincere talent on both sides of the ball, the Lions have what they need to compete with whomever they play with in 2017. But, the front seven takes away some of your confidence in them competing for anything major in the NFC, at least for this season. But, that’s not to say they can’t.
It’s tough, because the NFC North is about to become the best division in football. The Packers are going to rebound something fierce next season with Aaron Rodgers back and Mike Pettine running the defense, the Vikings have the league’s best defense and fresh blood on offense in Kirk Cousins and OC John DeFilippo, and the Bears could be onto something big if Mitch Trubisky continues to develop, all those big offseason roster moves pay off and Matt Nagy is the next offensive mastermind to transition to the head coaching job with ease. The Lions’ front seven gives me a lot of pause for a playoff berth in 2018. In the AFC, they’d have a much easier time, but the world could shift to where Detroit is the fourth-best team in their own division pretty quickly. But, they’re still a good football team! Right now, a Wild Card certainly isn’t out of the picture if things break even with Detroit’s front seven, but the Packers are my gut Super Bowl pick right now, and the Vikings will be back in the playoffs. Heck, the Bears might even push for a spot early in Nagy’s tenure. It’s always up to the team at hand as to where they go, so if Detroit can improve on offense and their front seven holds up, they’ll be in the mix. But, it’s going to be a long road; a second-place schedule and this divisional slate is brutal. Right now, I say no, but that’s only because of how monstrous this four-pack is shaping to be.”
Let’s stay in Atlanta because I oddly like these Falcons people. Hey Jeanna Thomas, what say you?
“It’s hard to put my finger on what I think about the Lions. Matthew Stafford is one of the better quarterbacks in the league, but he can’t do it all. That’s why I love the addition of LeGarrette Blount. They made smart offseason moves on the other side of the ball, and the Matt Patricia should make for a better defense.
On paper, I’d say yes. But with the Packers and Vikings in the division and a really difficult schedule, this may not be the year for Detroit.”
Let’s leave the NFC. Let’s head to Los Angeles to talk to the Bolts From The Blue’s own Richard Wade.
“The Lions have the all-important franchise quarterback in Matthew Stafford and he carries the offense to respectability nearly every year. The defense seems like it almost has to be better than last year and one would think the new head coach will make that a priority. They should, once again, be an above average team.
It is hard to see the Lions as playoff contenders just because their division is so tough. The Vikings got better. The Packers still have Aaron Rodgers. And the Bears are on their way to becoming a difficult team to play as well.”
Sorry Richard. The Bears have been under new ownership for a while now, and I don’t know if they’ll be sold any time soon. Let’s talk to Bucs Nation’s Gil Arcia.
“I think their running game will be interesting to follow. Blount has bounced around, but seems to always find himself on winning teams. Has come along way from his days with the Bucs. I think they are depending on how far Stafford can take them. But, we’ll have to see how Patricia’s coaching ways can affect them positively.”
Back to thoughts on the run game. I totally get it. Let’s check in with Titans Wire’s Kyle Madson to get his thoughts. Also Kyle, I need you to ship me a 360 Burrito and a Jamba Juice please. Thank you.
“I think the Lions are on the right track. They seem to perpetually have the same issue where their running game is insufficient and they don’t have a good enough defense to overcome their lack of diversity on offense. The good news is the Lions have an excellent quarterback and LeGarrette Blount should help the run game. Kerryon Johnson could also be a really nice addition to their offense. I also really like Darius Slay and some of the young pieces on their front seven (word to Jarrad Davis) The Lions get a bad rap because of their long history of losing, but they’re a very fun, likable team.
The Lions aren’t playoff contenders, but they’re not NOT playoff contenders. In a vacuum they are. They have an excellent quarterback and a roster around him good enough to make the postseason. However, their division is stacked. The Vikings should be better this year, the Packers have Aaron Rodgers, and the Bears might mess around and win 8 or 9 games. Put the Lions in almost any other division and they’re bonafide contenders. The NFC North just might be the best division in football, leaving the Lions on the outside looking in.”
Finally, we’ll end this bloodbath with a trip to Seattle to see what our old pal Mookie Alexander of Field Gulls has to say.
“The Lions are a frustrating team (easier for Lions fans to say, of course), as they’ve essentially failed to capitalize on the Green Bay Packers not being particularly great over the past two seasons. Last year’s outright failure to make the playoffs really had to be the end for Jim Caldwell, and sure enough he was canned. They only had one bad loss but it was at a critical time against a weak Bengals team. Overall, this is not a team that’s just abject mediocrity.
They should be in position to make the playoffs, but the NFC is too deep for me to be confident that they’ll be in. The roster looks like that of a playoff team. Hopefully Matthew Stafford finally has a running game, as these past five years have been incredibly bad. If not Rashaad Penny, I would’ve vouched for the Seahawks to get Kerryon Johnson.
Golden Tate and Marvin Jones should get more play as one of the top receiving duos in the NFL. I’m usually highly skeptical of Bill Belichick assistants being worthwhile as NFL head coaches, but if Matt Patricia can turn the Detroit defense from mediocre (19th in DVOA last season) to above-average, playoffs aren’t out of the question. Yes, the Patriots defense was pretty bad last year, but I argue that Detroit’s roster has better overall talent, especially in the secondary with Darius Slay as the #1 CB.
Now with that said, the NFC North might be a daunting division this year. Green Bay is a question mark depending on how healthy Aaron Rodgers is, but the Vikings should be able to remain contenders off of defense alone, unless Kirk Cousins proves to be really awful. I don’t even think the Chicago Bears will be pushovers this year. It’s going to be highly competitive, but I do think Detroit should be well positioned for a playoff berth.”
So that does it. If you got through all 3,000 plus words of this, I commend you. The consensus here seems to be that everyone is rightfully concerned about the run game, Matthew Stafford is really good, who knows what Matt Patricia is going to do and the Lions might just be sitting at home come playoff time. I guess we’ll all have to wait and see what happens here soon.