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O'HARA'S MONDAY COUNTDOWN: Lions 2018 season preview

Matt Patricia is in a good spot as the Detroit Lions' new head coach, but he's in a hot spot at the same time.

As Patricia kicks off his tenure tonight against the New York Jets under the bright lights of Ford Field and a Monday Night Football audience, he is in a different position than most new head coaches.

Patricia and his staff inherited a Lions team that had 9-7 won-loss records the last two years. There is an expectation, fairly or unfairly, that Patricia will improve the Lions' won-loss record. With that comes pressure.

Patricia's dilemma is the lead on the Week 1 Monday Countdown. There's also a mandate, not a prediction for the Lions, a look at the strengths and weaknesses from last year and what they mean for this year, a prediction on the NFC North race and the dream game for this season.

We start with Patricia.

1. Good spot, hot spot: General manager Bob Quinn's message was forceful when he fired Jim Caldwell after last season and hired Patricia as his replacement. Quinn did not think the team was tough enough physically, and he was disappointed at how poorly they performed against good teams.

In short, they built records the last two seasons against bad teams.

For what it's worth, I don't disagree with Quinn's assessments. Quinn also said the talent level was better than the record. That's debatable.

Quinn and Patricia both came to the Lions from the Patriots, where the demands are to win big in the regular season and postseason. The Lions haven't done either.

For many, Patricia is in an improve-now position. Another 9-7 season would be unacceptable.

Patricia was asked at his final media session of the week about expectations and pressure.

"I think external expectations, they are what they are," he said. "I can't control them. There are probably a lot of people outside this building that have no idea what goes on inside the building from that standpoint.

"We're just always going to take it day by day. We're going to take it game by game. That's the only thing that matters to us. I think to put numbers on what 16 games are going to look like is unrealistic for anybody.

"We're going to make sure we do the best job we can with this game (the Jets)."

2. Mandate -- 10: I gave up on making predictions a few year ago – but not before predicting the Lions to go 9-7 in 2008. That would have been a good time to quit.

The mandate for the Lions has been the same the last few years: Find a way to win 10 games. That's the minimum to have a legitimate shot to make the playoffs. Winning 10 doesn't guarantee anything, but anything less than 10 makes it problematic to make it as a wild card.

The Lions got in as a wild card at 9-7 two years ago. Most years, that doesn't happen.

Last year the Lions, Cowboys and Seahawks all missed the playoffs at 9-7.

3. Dominate NFC North – again: They did that last year with a 5-1 division record. They swept the Bears and Packers and split with the Vikings – winning on the road and losing at home.

Winning in the division should lead to making the playoffs. The Steelers went 6-0 last season, and seven others were 5-1 in the division. Of those eight, only the Lions and Cowboys missed the playoffs.

4. Win on the road – again: The Lions were one of 11 teams with winning road records last season. Eight made the playoffs. Three did not – the Lions (5-3), Seahawks (5-3) and Cowboys (5-3).

5. Dominate at home – 2017 disappointment: Ford Field should be the Lions' personal playpen, with sellout crowds and loud, enthusiastic fans.

It wasn't last year. The Lions were 4-4 at home, without beating a team with a winning record. That kept them out of the playoffs.

They beat four nonplayoff teams who had a combined won-loss record of 20-44 – Cardinals (8-8), Browns (0-16), Bears (5-11) and Packers (7-9) without Aaron Rodgers.

They lost to four playoff teams who had a combined won-loss record of 47-17– Falcons (10-6), Panthers (11-5), Steelers (13-3) and Vikings (13-3).

Another mandate: Do better this year.

6. Stop the skids: The Lions were outplayed and outscored for long periods in too many games last year. It seemed like they had no answer to stop the siege and answer back.

It started in the opener, when the Cardinals took a 10-0 lead and forced the Lions to rally to win in the fourth quarter. It was one of six games when the opponent – including the winless Browns -- took a 10-0 lead.

Two other teams extended the 10-0 leads – to 13-0 and 20-3 in a home loss to the Vikings on Thanksgiving Day, and to 20-0 in a road loss to the Ravens late in the season that crippled Detroit's playoff hopes.

And the one-sided domination wasn't only at the start. Three examples of how the malaise struck the Lions at any time:

In Game 5 at Ford Field, the Panthers ran off 24 straight points to turn a 10-3 deficit into a 27-10 lead and win.

In a Game 6 loss at New Orleans, the Saints scored 38 straight points to turn a 7-7 tie into a 45-10 lead.

And in a disastrous Game 15 road loss to the Bengals that eliminated them from the playoffs, a 20-7 blitz carried the Bengals from a 10-6 third-quarter deficit to a 26-17 win.

7. Key player offense (except Matthew Stafford): Second-year wide receiver Kenny Golladay is a logical choice to pick up the slack created by tight end Eric Ebron's departure via free agency. Whatever shortcomings Ebron had, he still caught 53 passes last year as the primary receiving tight end.

As a rookie, Golladay had 28 catches, three TDs and a 17-yard average per catch in 11 games. Golladay could double his totals. But then who picks up the slack for Golladay?

View photos from Detroit Lions practice on Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018.

8. Key player defense, Ziggy Ansah: He's an elite pass rusher, and he looks healthier than in recent seasons. A big season by Ansah causes matchup issues that open the way for others to make plays and take some pressure off the secondary.

Ansah had 12 sacks last season and should threaten to break the official franchise record of sacks in a season, set by Robert Porcher with 15 in 1999.

9. Key rookie: A dead heat between the top two draft picks – guard Frank Ragnow and running back Kerryon Johnson.

Ragnow will be a starter tonight on an offensive line that should be markedly improved. Johnson will be a high rotation player – at least -- in a group of backs who have the potential to give the Lions a legitimate running game.

10. Prediction, run game: As a team, the Lions will improve from their last place ranking in 2017 with 76.3 yards per game, to somewhere around the middle – about 110 yards a game.

And one of backs will break the 100-yard individual drought. It has been 68 games since Reggie Bush cracked the 100-yard rushing mark with 117 for the Lions in Game 12 of the 2013 season.

It could happen tonight.

11. Prediction – NFC North: The Vikings repeat. Their biggest question mark is the offensive line. The Packers and Lions compete for second place with the Bears last for the fifth straight year.

The Lions and Packers could be playing for a wild card berth in the final game on Dec. 30 at Lambeau Field.

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