There is this weird thing you go through every offseason as an NFL fan—or any sports team, honestly. Your team makes a ton of moves, every player you add is new, shiny and incredible. All the players your team lost were not that important anyways, and it is actually a blessing that the new guy is taking over his role.
That is how this year’s Detroit Lions feel. A brand new defense and offensive line have fans excited. But different does not always particularly mean great.
I had this feeling when I was initially making this list. I eventually went through every team’s depth chart and flipped through notes as I built the list from the bottom. Despite all the changes the team made this season, there are still some huge, fatal flaws on this team that will eventually damn them and likely prevent them from competing in 2020.
And if that is the case, then what does the future of the franchise hold?
The NFL season is almost upon us! Over the next few weeks I will be previewing each of the 32 NFL teams, and ranking them 1-32 as to how likely I believe they are to win Super Bowl LV. This week we continue the list with teams on the fringe of the playoff conversation.
26. Detroit Lions
Saying that head coach Matt Patricia is on the hot seat is an understatement. The head coach was brought into the organization with the expressed goal to take this team the next step. After a few winning seasons without any sort of playoff success, Patricia was the maned tasked with taking the franchise the next step.
The plan has failed thus far, as the team has won nine games over two seasons, and this might be the final year for Patricia and the general manager who brought him in, Bob Quinn. It also could be the last chance for longtime quarterback Matt Stafford, as a new regime may want to start over entirely with a new quarterback of their own in 2021.
That makes 2020 a crucial year for the franchise. If they do not compete in the playoffs, the 2021 team may look significantly different.
But can the team compete in 2020?
Detroit has one of the best skill position groups in the league. Wide receiver Kenny Golladay’s career took off last season, leading the league in touchdown receptions despite playing with a backup quarterback for half of the season. The receiving corps also includes two veteran stars in Marvin Jones Jr. and Danny Amendola. The running back room contains the young duo of D’Andre Swift and Kerryon Johnson, and two speedsters in Jason Huntley and Ty Johnson. With an elite quarterback like Stafford leading them, it is hard to see how this offense can be stopped...
Until you see the offensive line. The team is horrendous at guard at the moment, and they heavily overpaid for former backup tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai. Left tackle Taylor Decker has been a star thus far in his career, though he has been marred by inconsistency. The skill position players are great, but they will have trouble even getting out of their own backfield.
The defense will likely get run over for much of the year once again. The front seven is among the worst in the league. Jarrad Davis and Christian Jones—both linebackers who are set to start this season—were among the worst players in the NFL in 2020. Jamie Collins Sr. was added to the mix, and he and Jahlani Tavai, who had an impressive rookie campaign in 2019, will be expected to carry the group.
Trey Flowers and Da’Shawn Hand, the latter who missed nearly the entire 2019 season after a great 2018 rookie year, will be responsible for carrying a weak group on the defensive line. The additions of Danny Shelton and Nick Williams should help their defensive line depth, but neither are enough to really move the needle.
Surprisingly, the secondary is where the Lions may be the strongest. Duron Harmon is the team's best addition of the offseason and his contributions could be a boost for everyone on defense. Darius Slay is out the door, and the team will attempt to replace the elite corner with veteran Desmond Trufant and third overall pick Jeff Okudah. Throw in Tracy Walker—a young safety with huge upside—and the secondary has the makings of being okay. Not perfect, not even great, but significantly better than the disaster it was last year.
It may not be enough for Detroit, though. The offense may not live up to expectations without a good offensive line, and the defense will likely be among the bottom tiers of the league once again. Unless Stafford has an unprecedented, MVP-caliber season, the offense will likely be unable to make up for the failures of the defense.