Today's absurd prediction:
The Detroit Lions will still be in the playoff hunt in week 15.
What? I must be taking crazy pills, right? The Lions suck, what part of that don't you understand, Dan? This is one of the biggest pet peeves of mine about preseason hype. Every fan expects their team to be vastly improved, even those whose team finished 14-2, and they expect the rest of the teams to stay the same. But the NFL changes from season to season. The Jets and the Saints come out of nowhere to become playoff teams. The Bucs and the Redskins topple to become lottery picks. And of course, at the end of the season, people say "I wasn't surprised that the Bucs tanked. They suck."
Tirade over. I'm picking the Lions to actually compete this year, because I like the direction of the team. Matt Millen has done many idiotic things, and it's a mystery that he still has his job. But even he can learn from his mistakes. I feel very good about Rod Marinelli as a coach, and he's done a good job so far weeding out the problem players on his team. He is slowly assembling the personnel he needs, and with another good year of drafting and signing, might just crack the playoffs next year.
Here's the breakdown for the Detroit Lions:
Coaching Changes: N/A
Millen and the Ford family understood it would take time to fix their mess of a team, which is why there were no firings this offseason. That alone is a sign of improvement in managerial ability. I'm not entirely sold on Joe Barry as defensive coordinator, but Marinelli is a defensive guy, so his background helps compensate.
Millen flipped the bird at public perception by drafting a WR #1 again, and it was the right move. If anyone can work Mike Furrey, Roy Williams, and Calvin Johnson into an offense in a way that gets them all enough touches, it's Mike Martz. I like Drew Stanton as a QB to groom behind Jon Kitna, who was a great mentor for Carson Palmer. And Millen showed some nice prowess by dealing to get three 2nd-round picks, bolstering the DT and DB spots with Ikaika Alama-Francis and Gerald Alexander. Both are a bit of a gamble, coming from WAC teams, and there may have been better talent available, but all in all, this was a very solid draft. I also like the pick of 326-lb G Manny Ramirez in round 4.
Player Movement: B
I don't like the depletion of the backfield, with CBs Dre Bly and Jamar Fletcher and S Terrence Holt all gone. Travis Fisher was brought in, but he's hardly a replacement for Bly. With Fernando Bryant and Stanley Wilson both having missed significant time in recent years, CB is easily the Lions' weakest position. The defensive line of Shaun Rogers, Cory Redding, new acquisition Dewayne White, and Kalimba Edwards will need to play to maximum potential and stay healthy to keep a solid pass rush going. White replaces James Hall, which is a very slight upgrade. TE Marcus Pollard won't be missed much. I like Josh McCown, but he wasn't needed here anymore. Edwin Mulitalo and George Foster were signed, and both should start on the offensive line. This means there will be a period of adjustment, but by the end of the season there should be major improvement. And of course, the big signings were at RB, where Tatum Bell and T.J. Duckett will battle Kevin Jones for playing time. Their distinctive running styles should keep defenses guessing.
The Lions own one of the easiest schedules around. They get Minnesota and Green Bay twice, draw the Bucs and the Cardinals, and face Oakland along with the rest of the AFC West. I don't expect them to fare well against Chicago - they don't match up well at all. But all in all, their schedule does them many favors. I expect week 15 vs. San Diego to be the loss that knocks them out of the playoff race, but that's still way better than most would expect.
They'll need to hit the ground running to keep the fans from getting antsy. Opening the season against Oakland and Minnesota will definitely help - both have solid defenses matched with putrid offenses, and Detroit should own both sides of the ball. Injuries to the defense could be devastating, as the youth is not going to be quite ready to step in. It'll be interesting to see Martz working with a platoon at RB, as he usually favors a one-back approach.
The Record: 7-9
They'll need to improve this defense to get over the .500 mark, but this offense is so loaded that they could be down 21 with five minutes to play and you still can't count them out. This finish will be such a drastic improvement that Marinelli will get some Coach of the Year consideration.