3rd – Detroit Lions
Expect the Detroit Lions to take a step forward with a healthy Matthew Stafford and the evolving litany of weapons around him. A 3-12 finish in 2019 is not indicative of the talent level of this team, and in head coach Matt Patricia’s third year, he will begin to feel his seat heat up if he cannot make a substantial leap forward with this team. A 3-3-1 start fell off the rails after Stafford’s back injury, and Detroit did not win another game for the rest of the season.
However, in the eight games, Stafford did play, he was on pace for 5,000 yards and 38 touchdowns, and likely would have finished with his best season since 2011. The Lions also lost promising second-year running back Kerryon Johnson to a knee injury later in the year, and while the tandem of Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones still combined for 1,800 yards and 20 touchdowns, there was simply not enough left in the cupboard to forge a successful season.
The Lions haven’t earned a playoff berth since 2016 and haven’t won a playoff game in almost 30 years. For them to put themselves back on the map, Stafford’s health is obviously imperative; however, the team will also be looking to young talent like T.J. Hockenson and 2019 second-round pick D’Andre Swift to provide this offense with a stronger punch.
The defense tied for last in the NFL in interceptions in 2019, and that task will not get any easier after the team traded three-time Pro Bowler Darius Slay to Philadelphia. The Lions need to shore up the defensive backfield quickly, likely looking to first-round pick Jeff Okudah to make a fast transition to the league.
Early games against the Bears and Cardinals could give them two solid wins from the jump, although neither is an easy victory. The Lions must take advantage of the middle portion of their season; they boast very winnable games against Jaguars, Falcons, Colts, Redskins, Panthers, and Chicago.
If the Lions can’t emerge from that stretch with at least four wins, a playoff berth is unlikely in 2020 with a final stretch against the Packers, Titans, Buccaneers, and Vikings. Detroit’s season is in flux before it even begins, but if their talent can stay healthy, they have the potential to make major moves in the division.
Official Prediction: 8-8