The 2013 Detroit Lions collapsed down the stretch with four losses in a row to miss the playoffs for the 13th time in the last 14 years. The team is now hoping that new additions both on and off the field will help it get back into the postseason.
Jim Caldwell represents the biggest change heading into next season after replacing Jim Schwartz as head coach. The former Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator also spent three years as head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, leading the team to the Super Bowl in 2009.
Additionally, the Lions added wide receiver Golden Tate in free agency, hopefully taking some of the pressure off Calvin Johnson. With the No. 10 pick in the first round of the NFL draft, the squad should have one of the more complete rosters in football heading into 2014.
The Lions will hope that they can navigate this schedule and have a successful year.
|1||Sept. 8||vs. New York Giants||7:10 p.m.||ESPN|
|2||Sept. 14||at Carolina Panthers||1 p.m.||Fox|
|3||Sept. 21||vs. Green Bay Packers||1 p.m.||Fox|
|4||Sept. 28||at New York Jets||1 p.m.||Fox|
|5||Oct. 5||vs. Buffalo Bills||1 p.m.||Fox|
|6||Oct. 12||at Minnesota Vikings||1 p.m.||Fox|
|7||Oct. 19||vs. New Orleans Saints||1 p.m.||Fox|
|8||Oct. 26||at Atlanta Falcons||9:30 a.m.||Fox|
|10||Nov. 9||vs. Miami Dolphins||1 p.m.||CBS|
|11||Nov. 16||at Arizona Cardinals||4:25 p.m.||Fox|
|12||Nov. 23||at New England Patriots||1 p.m.||Fox|
|13||Nov. 27||vs. Chicago Bears||12:30 p.m.||CBS|
|14||Dec. 7||vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers||1 p.m.||Fox|
|15||Dec. 14||vs. Minnesota Vikings||1 p.m.||Fox|
|16||Dec. 21||at Chicago Bears||1 p.m.||Fox|
|17||Dec. 28||at Green Bay Packers||1 p.m.||Fox|
According to ESPN, Detroit's strength of schedule is right in the middle of the pack, ranking 16th in the league in opposing win percentage.
Unfortunately, the schedule gets a little tougher when considering the difficult road games, where the Lions went 3-5 last season. The Arizona Cardinals, Carolina Panthers, New England Patriots and New York Jets were a combined 27-5 at home in 2013 compared to just 15-17 on the road.
Detroit will have a hard time winning games in any of those environments. At least the battle against the New Orleans Saints will be played at Ford Field.
Additionally, the Lions will have to deal with traveling to London for their Oct. 26 game against the Atlanta Falcons. Besides the typical travel concerns, the game will be extremely early, something that initially upset the Detroit Free Press when it was announced:
As a result, this "average" schedule gets much more difficult, especially when factoring in the improvements from each team within the NFC North. Rodgers gets a healthy Aaron Rodgers back and added Julius Peppers; Chicago filled Peppers' departure by signing Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston; and Minnesota has worked to bolster the defense while still featuring Adrian Peterson.
Detroit will have to be mentally strong in 2014 in order to post a winning record against this tough stretch.
Heading into the 2014 season, the Lions will certainly want to circle dates against the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears. However, they really have to be able to focus against any of the top teams in the league.
While that certainly starts with the high-powered offense, there's no doubt Ndamukong Suh will have a key role in the team's success.
Last year, Detroit had only a single win over a team with a winning record and that came against the Packers without Rodgers. This year's schedule has plenty of opportunities for more of those victories against the Saints, Patriots, Cardinals and more.
Obviously, none of these contests will be considered easy. Still, a playoff team has to be able to beat top contenders over the course of the year, with each of the 16 games a pivotal mark in the standings.
Caldwell certainly thinks his team can go far. He discussed his expectations for the upcoming season, via Rochelle Riley of the Detroit Free Press:
The devil is in the details. The game of football is still won in the trenches, still won by the big uglies, those guys who are nose-to-nose every snap. Everything else looks pretty and pretty fancy ... but the difference is made down in the trenches. This team has the core nucleus to be a playoff team, and if we do things right, we’re going to go further.
In order to reach the postseason, the key will be to remain focused in every game. After losing many close contests in 2013, the Lions also have to figure out a way to close out victories. Otherwise, this season will be more of the same in Detroit.
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