Coming off of a historically bad season last year that will be forever etched in the memories of all NFL fans, the Detroit Lions have nowhere to go but up. The question for this team is "How high is the ceiling?"
My personal opinion on this team is that it's probably not very high, but it is highly unlikely that they will go winless another season. This team wants desperately to change its losing mentality and history, but making the playoffs seems to be quite a stretch.
Although it is true that the NFC North has not been a very good division the last few years, that's due in large part due to how bad the Lions have been under former GM Matt Millen.
Now the Lions have a new team president in Tom Lewand and GM in Martin Mayhew. They also have a new Coach in Jim Schwartz and quarterback in the first pick in this year's draft, Matthew Stafford. While these personnel changes signal that the Lions desperately want to shed themselves of their losing ways, they're still a long way from getting results.
Putting in a new quarterback, especially a rookie, is a risk for any NFL team. While there have been recent stories of immediate success with Matt Ryan in Atlanta and Joe Flacco in Baltimore, more fans are reminded of the epic failures of Ryan Leaf in San Diego.
On top of that, for some young QBs success comes with growing pains, such as Troy Aikman, who was the top pick in the 1989 draft for the Cowboys and went 1-15 in his first season before leading the 'Boys to three Super Bowls in four years.
Stafford showed a lot of promise in the NFL combine with his arm, but what I think will be more key for him will be his mobility. The Lions have one of the worst offensive line in the league, and he will have to do a lot of scrambling in order to find Calvin Johnson to make big plays this season. He will also probably take a lot of sacks this upcoming season.
One of the few players that showed any kind of promise for the Lions last season was Running Back Kevin Smith who rushed for 976 yards in his rookie season out of Central Florida. While he's clearly not Barry Sanders he can pick up tough yards and has proven that he has breakaway speed. If Smith has a breakout season with 1,000-plus yards, I could see it translate into some possible upset wins in early home games against Minnesota and Washington.
The defense will get a huge shakeup with Schwartz coming in from the Tennessee Titans with their powerful aggressive 4-3 defense changing over from their 3-4 alignment last season. On top of that, they added Pro-Bowl linebacker Larry Foote, who came from the amazing 3-4 Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers into the new system to play middle linebacker and essentially be the defensive captain.
Lions fans are hoping that Schwartz can come in and work his magic to turn the league's worst rush defense into something better. I would advise those fans to have some patience. The Titans had Albert Haynesworth last season and gave up a mere 93.4 rushing yards per game, whereas the Lions gave up nearly twice that amount in an average with 172.1 yards on the ground for their opponents.
I think that this team will improve and win at the very least four games. However i don't think that they will be able to make the playoffs, as Kevin Smith has predicted. I think a fair assumption is that they will probably win somewhere between four and six games as a fair estimate, and while the playoffs are the goal of this team this season, I find it highly unlikely that they will be able to reach that goal.
At the end of the season, I think the Lions will be 5-11 and fourth in the NFC North with a promising young quarterback who managed to get through a year of punishment relatively unscathed.