The Comeback is previewing all 32 NFL teams from worst to first leading up to the start of the 2017 regular season on Sept. 7. Coming in at No. 25 on our rankings are the enigmatic Detroit Lions.
2016 in a nutshell: The Lions borrowed a horseshoe from the Colts and enjoyed one of the luckiest seasons in NFL history, with quarterback Matthew Stafford recording an NFL-record eight fourth-quarter comebacks. But the fact they needed to pull rabbits out of their hats to beat weak opponents time and again didn’t bode well.
What’s different: Detroit spruced up the offensive line by adding Pro Bowl guard T.J. Lang and above-average right tackle Rick Wagner, but those two merely replaced the relatively solid Larry Warford and Riley Reiff on the right side. Is that trade worth even a single extra win? Probably not.
Why they could be awesome: The horseshoe might still be there. We’ll ask a proctologist.
— NFL (@NFL) August 13, 2017
Why they could suck: On paper last season, the Lions were a six-win team — one that was ranked 27th in the league by Football Outsiders in terms of DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average). They ranked dead last in the league with an opposing completion percentage of 72.7 and passer rating of 106.5, they averaged just 3.7 yards per carry, and their defensive sack rate of 4.5 was tied for the NFL’s second-worst. And they don’t look significantly better now than they did when they lost their last four games in 2016.
Major additions: Lang and Wagner, as well as rookie first-round linebacker Jarrad Davis.
Major losses: Warford and Reiff.
Ameer Abdullah first touch of the preseason. pic.twitter.com/4Fm6VVUY1t
— James Simpson (@JS_Football) August 13, 2017
Breakout watch: Detroit is certainly hoping that the running game can be revived by 2015 second-round back Ameer Abdullah, who missed most of the 2016 campaign with foot problems but averaged 5.6 yards per carry when he was out there and has shown flashes of brilliance.
Position to watch: One year after the Calvin Johnson era came to an abrupt conclusion, the receiving corps is tough to figure out. Anquan Boldin is also gone now after an eight-touchdown 2016 season, leaving Golden Tate, Marvin Jones and promising rookie third-rounder Kenny Golladay as the top three options. And then there’s Jared Abbrederis, who drew strong reviews in the offseason. Wouldn’t surprise me if any of those four became the No. 1 guy this year.
Prediction: I believe in the law of averages, and it doesn’t favor the Lions after what happened to them in 2016.
6-10, third place in the NFC North