Best & Worst Case Scenarios for the Detroit Lions

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Ivan Martinez

Will the Lions return to the playoffs? Or are they doomed to return to the bottom ranks?

Ivan Martinez, Sports Editor

Free at last; we are free at last!

        After seven gruesome months of pretending to care about baseball, golf, and tennis, September has finally come to end the entertainment drought we call “the off-season”. And with the beginning of the NFL season comes a sweeping sense of optimism all across the league. All teams are, so far, undefeated and think they have a chance to lift the Lombardi trophy come February. For every optimist out there, however, there is a nay-sayer to rain on the parade and explain how your team will be watching from home this January.

        With optimism surrounding the previously pessimistic fan base of the Detroit Lions, predictions for this year’s squad have been all over the map. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the best and worst case scenarios for the 2015 Detroit Lions.

A bit of a side note before we begin: health was not considered when determining these scenarios unless the player had a recent history of injury because, let’s be honest, Detroit won’t be winning any games with Dan Orlovsky under center.

        Best Case Scenario: 13-3

        First and foremost, Matthew Stafford finally plays like a franchise quarterback. Stafford plays consistent football, finally managing to deliver the ball accurately without turning the ball over twice a game.

Next, Calvin Johnson not only plays all 16 games, but manages to return to his record-breaking 2012 form. Alongside Johnson, Golden Tate needs to replicate the success he found early last year when Johnson was hurt.

With the powerful punch of Johnson and Tate, rookie running back Ameer Abdullah manages to take advantage of the empty boxes he’ll face to have a monster rookie season. In this scenario, Abdullah not only wins the starting job early, but manages to back up all of the preseason hype by showing the kind of vision and burst to rival Le’Veon Bell.

Head Coach Jim Caldwell makes the most of this powerful offense by veering away from his conservative game plan. Instead, he works up the courage to go for it more often on fourth and five or less. This results in more scoring drives and a more rested defense.

        Speaking of which, the defense will have to be stellar. The dynamic linebacker duo of DeAndre Levy and Stephen Tulloch proves the team to be elite and rank near the top of the league in tackles. This is, in large part, due to both players staying on the field all season.

        On the line, 31 year old trade acquisition Haloti Ngata looks young on the field, managing to plug the inside as well as Ndamukong Suh did last season. With help from second year coordinator Teryl Austin, the Detroit defensive line manages to fill in for Suh and continue to pressure the quarterback. This is especially crucial for the secondary.

        Taking over where they left off, the Detroit secondary continues to take advantage of pressured quarterbacks to create regular turnovers. The defense that finished near the top of the league in almost every category last year returns for a second straight year.

        Perhaps the biggest key to Detroit’s best case scenario is kicker Matt Prater. In order to win 13 games, Prater will have to play like he did in 2013 when he went 25-26 on field goals including 19-19 on field goals of 49 yards or less. Prater’s sporadic play last year cost the lions multiple games, including a 14-17 loss in which Prater missed three field goals.

        Finally, in the best case scenario Detroit goes 5-1 in the division. Sweeping both Minnesota and Chicago, while splitting with Green Bay. Detroit’s 13-3 record wins them the division for the first time since 1993 and earns them a first round bye for the first time since 1991. With a dominant defense and an offense capable of keeping up with anyone, Detroit rolls into the playoffs with a real chance at making a deep run.

        Worst Case Scenario: 4-12

        In this scenario, things get ugly.

        Stafford regresses back to his gunslinger mentality, taking unnecessary risks and missing open receivers. In addition to losing his accuracy, Stafford loses his confidence in the pocket, often hearing footsteps and developing a bad case of happy feet.

        Stafford’s struggles are compounded by the fact that Johnson misses half the season with a nagging hamstring issue. Without an all-pro, wide-out garnering double coverage opposite him, Golden Tate struggles to recapture the spark that made him an early MVP candidate last season.

        Without a competent aerial attack, the Detroit backfield combines to make little impact. Stacked boxes contain Abdullah’s speed, keeping him from surpassing Joique Bell on the depth chart. Bell’s inability to produce big plays will result in an ill-advised running back by committee approach in which no one can manage to gain momentum or confidence.

        The ailing offense tends to stall at midfield, with Coach Caldwell refusing to go for it on fourth down until it is too late. When drives do manage to enter opposing territory, it often ends in a missed field goal from Matt Prater. That is, until he is fired about seven games into the season, only to be replaced by a litany of equally inconsistent kickers throughout the year.

        Unlike last year, however, a field goal or two will rarely be the difference maker. Without the awesome presence of Suh on the front four, the defense crumbles in year two of Teryl Austin’s system. 31-year-old Haloti Ngata fails to make a dent in opposing offensive lines, and looks old doing it. With no help from the front four, Linebackers Levy and Tulloch are taken out of coverage in an effort to pressure the quarterback. Even this yields little success, especially after Tulloch suffers his second season ending injury in as many years.

        Meanwhile, opposing quarterbacks are given all day to look for a receiver and dissect Detroit’s secondary. The once feared, ball-hawking, secondary falls apart sans Suh. The Defense falls to the bottom half of the league in turnovers, with the team finishing in the cellar for turnover differential.

        Blowouts become the norm, with the worst coming from inside their own division. Green Bay and Minnesota skate by for an easy sweep, while even Chicago earns a victory, adding up to a horrendous 1-5 record within the division. Detroit finishes last in the division, leading to the most tumultuous offseason since the firing of Matt Millen. General Manager Martin Mayhew and Coach Jim Caldwell are given their walking papers, with the fates of Coordinators Joe Lombardi and Teryl Austin left up to the next administration. Even Matthew Stafford goes into the offseason without job security, having lost all of the ownership’s faith.

        Likely scenario: 10-6

        Hey, it might not be glamorous, but often the simplest answers turn out to be true. The offseason is a time for bold predictions, but come December, Detroit will be in a familiar position: fighting for a wild-card berth. We’d all like to believe that this is the year Detroit unseats Green Bay at the top of the division, and it might be, but more likely Detroit will play their old role of second fiddle.

        Stafford could very likely show improvement, but he won’t be turning into Tom Brady any time soon. After all the preseason hype for Ameer Abdullah, he will likely earn the starting job sooner or later. Just don’t count on it happening before October.

        As for the defense, growing pangs are to be expected from a unit recovering from the biggest talent swap since Darrelle Revis left the Jets in 2012 (before returning in 2015, just sayin’). Suh’s absence notwithstanding, The Lions’ defense will not just fall off the cliff thanks to one player. Pro Bowler Glover Quin and star linebacker DeAndre Levy’s presence alone will keep the defense above water.

        Expect some tough losses and a nail-biting end of the year, but Detroit will be just fine. It may not always look pretty, but the Lions possess the pieces necessary to make back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time since the 1994-1995 seasons. In a time of unprecedented parity in the NFL, however, only time will tell.