What follows my prediction in the Monday Countdown that previews the 2013 season, and what should be expected from the Lions – demanded, really – is more important than any prediction.
The Preview Countdown looks at stats and odds for the Lions and their key players –
As usual, feel free to disagree with any predictions.
We start with the record:
1. Prediction: 9-7 is my prediction for the Lions. That won’t win the NFC North or guarantee making the playoffs, but it’s a five-game jump over last season, and it could qualify for a second playoff berth in three years.
Strange things happen in the standings, which is why records come without a guarantee.
The Bears sat home last season at 10-6 while the Packers won the North at 11-5. The Vikings, also 10-6, got in as a wild card with a better division record than the Bears – 4-2 vs. 3-3.
At 10-6 in 2010, the Giants missed the playoffs. The Giants were one game worse in 2011 – 9-7 vs. 10-6 -- but that won the NFC East. They went on to beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl.
I’ve been right before with my picks. I was dead on in 2011 with a 10-6 prediction.
And I was dead wrong last year at 11-5.
On Monday before the season starts, I always think I have a chance to be right.
2. Blinders: The Lions should wear them – and ear plugs. Their focus should be on playing from week-to-week and not get caught up in expectations or anyone’s predictions, including their own.
The vibe last year was that they started the season with a sense of arrival from making the playoffs in 2011. It showed in some offseason misbehavior and their erratic performance in the season.
“I think people thought it was so easy to get back to where we were,” said center
“We lost our sense of urgency. Guys thought it was easier than it really was. Really, it’s not that easy.
“I like where we are as a team. That sense of urgency is back.”
3. Reality: If there’s any lingering complacency, the Lions should look at the roster and the significant additions made in the offseason. For example, there are three new starters on the offensive line, two on the defensive line, two in the secondary and a new punter, kicker and returner on special teams.
Reggie Bush was signed to take over as the lead running back, and the buzz around the NFL for more than a week has been that GM Martin Mayhew has been searching to add a veteran receiver.
That isn’t the mark of a team that’s standing pat or has any semblance of complacency.
4. Bad stat I -- home: The Lions did not defend their home turf last year. They were 2-6 at Ford Field and 2-6 on the road. The other three NFC North teams all had winning records at home – Packers (7-1), Vikings (7-1) and Bears (5-3).
The recipe for a winning record starts with home cooking.
Of the 14 teams that had winning records last year, none had a losing home record. Cincinnati, at 10-6 and 4-4 at home, was the only winner not above .500 at home.
Of the other 13, 11 were 6-2 or better.
5. Bad stat II -- division: The Lions were 0-6 in the NFC North last year, and it was not an aberration. It isn’t a trend that began with Jim Schwartz’s arrival as head coach. He inherited it.
The last time the Lions finished above .500 in a division was 1997, when they were 6-2 in the old NFC Central and made the playoffs as a wild card at 9-7.
In the previous three seasons under Schwartz, the Lions were 3-3, 2-4 and 0-6 in the North.
6. Bad stat III – streakers: In the last 12 seasons – 2001-2012 -- the Lions have had at least one losing streak of five games or longer in every season except 2011, the playoff year. They never lost more than two straight in 2011.
There was a 12-game losing streak at the start of 2001 and the season-ending eight straight losses last year. Of course, there was the historic 2008 season when they lost every game to become the only NFL team to go 0-16.
Long losing streaks are season-wreckers. Once the Lions get on a downer, they haven’t had the ability, the will or the leadership to stop it.
7. Where I see 9 wins: It starts at home, and anything less than 6-2 at Ford Field will be unacceptable.
I give the Lions six wins at Ford Field: the opener against the Vikings, then the Bears, Cowboys, Bucs and either the Ravens or Giants in the last two home games. That makes five and leaves Cincinnati or Green Bay on Thanksgiving Day to make it six home wins.
Beating Cincy – my pick to win the AFC and Andy Dalton is a better choice than the Packers and Aaron Rodgers.
That leaves three more on the road. I’m done picking the Lions to break a 21-season road losing streak to the Packers. The Cardinals in Game 2, and the Bears and Browns later look like road wins. That makes three road wins.
Give the Lions a win at Minnesota in the final game, especially if a 10-win season and a playoff berth are on the line, and they can get to 10-6.
8. North win totals: Vegas has the over-under on the Lions’ at 7.5 to 8 wins. I’d take the over. For the rest of the North, the Packers are No. 1 at 10.5 with the Bears at 8.5 and the Vikings at 7.
I don’t see the Bears doing more than breaking even, with the Vikings not close to matching last season’s 10 wins.
My prediction for the NFC North: 1. Packers; 2. Lions; 3. Bears; 4. Vikings.
9. Matthew Stafford: I don’t project him beating last year’s total of 4,967 passing yards, but he’ll throw more than 20 TD passes, increase his 2012 completion percentage of 59.8 by five points and have fewer than 17 picks.
He also won’t attempt 727 passes, which led the league and was 57 more than Drew Brees had to rank No. 2.
10. North stars’ stats: It gets overlooked that the NFC North has the NFL’s best quarterback (Packers’ Aaron Rodgers), wide receiver (Lions’ Calvin Johnson) and running back (Vikings’ Adrian Peterson). Maybe that’s because the sports networks run out of steam blathering about the Jets and updating reports on Robert Griffin III’s knee and his relationship with Redskins coach Mike Shanahan.
To pick one from the North’s superstar trio to match last year’s stats, I’d go with Rodgers – 39 TDs, 8 picks and a league-high passer rating of 108.0. He’s the NFL’s best quarterback, and it’s not close for whoever you pick to be No. 2.
Between Johnson and Peterson, Johnson will come closer to last year’s 1,964 receiving yards than Peterson will to 2,097 rushing.
Megatron should double – at least – his five TD catches of 2012.
Suh should match at least match last year’s eight sacks. At the same time,
11. Reggie Bush: Quality – big catches, big runs, threat out of the backfield – will define his value more than quantity will.
His most productive seasons for yards from scrimmage were as a rookie in 2006 (1,307) and 2011 in Miami (1,382).
Combining his best years rushing (1,086 in 2011) and receiving (742 in ’06) adds up to 1,828. It’s doubtful that he’ll get that many, but anything over 1,500 would surpass realistic expectations.
12. A Lions home game to circle: Assuming the Tigers are deep into the postseason, either Oct. 20 against the Bengals or Oct. 27 vs. the Cowboys as a major downtown event. It will be electric if the Tigers are playing next door at Comerica that night – or even on TV on the road.
13. One scenario to dread: If the Lions are on a losing bender, out of contention, and the watch is on for Jim Schwartz’s job and projections for the 2014 draft.
It’s part of the business, but nobody enjoys it. And it’s something the Lions have seen and done enough.
14. Super Bowl XLVIII pick: Seahawks 30, Bengals 20. The Broncos are a popular pick in the AFC, but I don’t see Peyton Manning taking the Broncos all the way. He got to the Super Bowl twice in the previous 15 years, and he threw the Broncos out of the playoffs last season with a bad pick in overtime.
The Bengals are loaded on defense and solid enough on offense to win the AFC. Seattle’s Russell Wilson was the best overall of the young NFC quarterbacks who led their teams a year ago. He plays without drama.
He’ll lead the Seahawks to the Super Bowl this year.