I hate season predictions, I will not sugar coat it and I make no apologies for it. Predictions are a like playing the lottery except with no reward if you guess right. If I’m right everybody assumes that because I am a football writer, I should be right more often than not. If I’m wrong, everybody tells me that I suck and don’t know anything.
Despite the inherent futility in predicting the unpredictable, I will offer my 2011 prediction for the Lions. Not because I want to, but because people like to read predictions and I’m a Lions fan that lives in Wisconsin, so I’m used to people telling me that I suck.
Despite nailing last season’s prediction even without knowing Stafford would miss most of the season, I feel more uneasy about predicting this one. The lockout allegedly affected all teams equally, but that simply is not true. Teams that have new coaching staffs didn’t even meet their players until August while great coaching staffs take full advantage of all the offseason workouts to coach up their teams. Now that I have thrown in my lockout disclaimer, here is the prediction.
I arrived at my season prediction by going through the schedule and ranking the games in three categories. Likely to win, likely to lose and evenly matched. Then total everything up and cross my fingers.
At Buccaneers: Evenly matched. Everybody praises the Bucs’ turnaround year last year, but overlook the fact that they went 1-5 against teams with winning records and the one win came against the Saints when they already locked up their playoff position. I think the Lions are the better team, but opening on the road in Tampa is tough. 0-1
Chiefs: Likely to win. The Chiefs are another team that everybody heaped praise on for turning around in a big way, but again there’s more to the story. The Chiefs also only won one game against a team with a winning record and lost by an average of 21.3 points in their three losses. Factor in the loss of offensive coordinator Charlie Weis and this team comes back to earth in a big way. 1-1
At Vikings: Likely to win. The Vikings were a train wreck last season in every sense of the phrase. They have gotten worse on both lines, at quarterback and in the secondary and they were 6-10 last year. The Lions should get their first Metrodome win in 14 years. 2-1
At Cowboys: Likely to lose. Again I’d like to draw attention to the NFL’s horrible schedule bias against the Lions. The Lions have three out of their first four games on the road with a playoff team at home. Guess how many times that’s happened since the NFL adopted their current scheduling format? Once. Last year. To the Lions. This game should feature two of the league’s most potent offenses against two of the league’s shakiest secondaries. I think the Lions will just come up a little short in this one. 2-2
Bears: Likely to win. The Lions get the Bears in their first Monday Night Football appearance in 10 years and the first MNF game at Ford Field. The Bears played well over their heads last year, and they typically follow playoff years with double digit loss years. Ford Field will be out of control for this game and the Lions will be psyched to show a national audience what they’ve got. These emotional games can lead to letdowns, but they also lead to big wins too. 3-2
49ers: Likely to win. The 49ers have a new coach, new offense but the same quarterback. He doesn’t do well under pressure and the offensive line has let him see a lot of it last year and this preseason. This is one of those games that a good team just doesn’t lose. We’ll see if the Lions are a good team. 4-2
Falcons: Likely to lose. This game pits the Lions against the #1 seed in the NFC last year. The Packers embarrassed the Falcons in the playoffs last year by getting an early lead and forcing the Falcons to play catch up. They aren’t built for that and the Lions could win this game by doing the same thing. I just don’t think the Lions are in the same league as the Falcons yet. 4-3
At Broncos: Likely to win. The Broncos are a complete disaster right now. They have a quarterback of the future that can’t throw, their quarterback of the present is unappreciated and their front office wasted all the picks they got in the Cutler trade. Denver’s best defensive players are playing out of position (Dumervil at defensive end and Von Miller at 4-3 outside linebacker) and their best offensive player is Brandon Lloyd. This is another game that could be a trap, but the Lions need to win these to take the next step. 5-3
At Bears: Likely to win. Like I said before, I think the Bears take a step back this year and the Lions almost beat the Bears twice last year with Shaun Hill and Drew Stanton. I like the Lions defense against a bad offensive line and the offense against a terrible secondary, but this seems like a game that could end up being an upset. I’ll still pick the Lions though. 6-3
Panthers: Likely to win. Raw rookie quarterback, check. Bad receiving corps, check. Shaky offensive line, check. Questionable secondary, check. That’s a shopping list for a blowout. 7-3
Packers: Likely to lose. Once again the Lions get a good team on Thanksgiving while the Cowboys get a middle of the road team. The Lions get amped for the Thanksgiving Day game and I’d love to think they pull the upset, but something tells me they are still a year away from a Thanksgiving win. 7-4
At Saints: Likely to lose. The third leg of the NFC powerhouse tour takes the Lions to New Orleans where the Jim Schwartz Era began. It’ll be a much closer game this time, but same result. 7-5
Vikings: Likely to win. The Vikings make a Ford Field appearance for the third time in the last two Decembers. I just don’t see the Vikings being able to defend the Lions’ offense or have much success against their defense. I think the Lions will make them 0-3 in those trips. 8-5
At Raiders: Likely to win. The Raiders are the team that Lions fans feel sorry for…ouch. The Raiders lost their best offensive lineman, their best defensive player and made some questionable moves in the offseason. They have a great running game, but they have major holes all over the roster and this is a game the Lions need to stay in the playoff hunt. 9-5
Chargers: Likely to lose. The Chargers boast one of the best offenses and defenses in the league and are a trendy Super Bowl pick. The Lions should be much improved, but again I think they are still not quite in the same class as the elite teams like the Chargers. 9-6
At Packers: Likely to lose. The schedule makers send the Lions to Green Bay in December/January for the fifth time in the last eight years. The Lions haven’t won in Green Bay since 1991 and I think they finally have the talent to do it in 2011. However, the Lions are going to be a pass heavy team in 2011 and that doesn’t bode well for a January afternoon in Green Bay. The Packers are pass heavy as well, but they have way more experience dealing with the elements than the Lions do. The streak will have to wait to be broken. 9-7
I have the Lions finishing with a 9-7 record which begs the question, are they going to make the playoffs? I’d feel more comfortable with a playoff prediction if I felt they could go 10-6, but at 9-7 tiebreakers will come into play and I have the Lions losing to most of the likely competition for a wild card slot (Bucs, Saints, Falcons, Cowboys and Packers.)
I’m not going to say they won’t make the playoffs, but I think it’s unlikely given the way I see their season playing out. If the Cowboys, Packers and Saints/Falcons win their divisions, then the Lions could be in a better situation as far as tiebreakers go, because they would only have a head to head loss against the Bucs and Saints/Falcons. One upset of those teams could put them at 10-6 and give them a tiebreaker edge, but I think the playoffs are still one year away. At least Lions fans will be able to talk playoff scenarios after October 1st this season, which is a small win in and of itself.