The games count for real now, it's time to look at the Lions’ opener against the Vikings on Sunday and the prediction for the season.
Anything surprising about the final cuts, and are there areas of the 53-player roster that still might be adjusted?
Mike: The only surprise is that there was no trade from the time the final cuts were official at 6 p.m. Saturday until the first practice of the week at 10:15 a.m. Tuesday. All the talk was about the Lions trading to add a receiver.
Either the asking price from other teams was too high, or there was nobody on the market worth pursuing. That could change next week, when teams can pick up vested veterans without having to guarantee their salary for the season.
Of all the players who were cut, one who probably had the biggest beef was wide receiver Matt Willis. He was productive, but the Lions decided to go with other receivers.
Tim: I was a little surprised with the Lions keeping six receivers. That number is typically five and I thought Willis had a good shot to make it.
Michael Spurlock won the return job over rookie
I’m with you though, Mike, I’m not sure the Lions are done quite yet with that group.
The Lions have just five linebackers currently on the roster after the release of Rocky McIntosh on Sunday. I expect them to add a player there. They could hold off until after week one so as to not guarantee a contract, but there's a calculated risk with entering any game with five linebackers.
The only other mildly surprising move was the release of cornerback
What do you make of the late roster claim of safety
Mike: Nothing dramatic, really. He started eight games in two seasons for Washington after being drafted in the fifth round out of Nebraska. He was productive in college and even played linebacker briefly.
It’s a signing to add depth at safety – and also another sign that the attempt to improve the roster never ends. Looking ahead, he might have some insight on how to defend Robert Griffin III when the Lions play at Washington in Game 3.
Looking ahead to Game 1, the defense has two new starters on the defensive line and in the secondary, and three on the offensive line.
Which unit faces the most critical test against the Vikings?
Tim: It’s that revamped defensive line, in my opinion.
General manager Martin Mayhew wanted to get bigger and stronger upfront, in part, to help boost the NFL’s 16th ranked rushing defense a season ago. They've added
It’s also vital that unit gets up the field and makes things uncomfortable for quarterback Christian Ponder and some of his new weapons in the passing game.
Everything the Lions do defensively starts upfront and those guys have to be good if the defense is going to be good.
Do you agree?
Mike: Absolutely. The Lions have put money and draft picks into the defensive line, and it has to perform.
In fact, the defense has been built like a good baseball team, with strength up the middle – tackles (
Everything else is important, especially the cornerbacks. They have to cover and tackle. But if Suh and Fairley dominate – and they should – and the rush comes from the ends, it will be a good defense.
If not, there’s a problem.
Tim: I’d also like the offense to put up some early points and take some of the pressure off.
Sunday will be the first time the Lions offense will have their three main weapons together –
Players will be in their natural positions and Stafford will have his whole compliment of weapons, which he admitted was nice to see in practice Tuesday.
Mike: And all of that sounds good – strength on defense, offense back in sync and special teams that we haven’t talked about but expect to be improved.
It brings us to expectations for the season, and a prediction of the record.
There is no powerhouse in the NFC North like the 2011 Packers, who went 15-1. The division should be competitive.
My pick is for the Lions to go 9-7. That will put them in playoff contention in December. To make the postseason, they’ll probably have to win one more game than I’m predicting, and that’s not impossible.
How do you see it?
Tim: I’ve got them at 9-7 with the ability to potentially get to 10-6 if all the key parts (Stafford, Johnson, Delmas, Quin, Bush, Suh Fairley, etc…) stay healthy.
The Lions open with two very winnable games at home vs. Minnesota and on the road in Arizona. That will set up, in my opinion, one of the big games early in the season as a barometer to how this season will go in their Week 3 matchup in Washington.
The Lions have never won in Washington and the Redskins are a playoff-caliber team.
Those are the games they have to start winning to be taken seriously as a contender. They have to show the ability to beat good teams on the road. Those are the game that separate an 8-8 team with a 10-6 one.