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2007 Season Previews
Detroit Lions (Last Year: 3-13)
Veteran Additions:
RB Tatum Bell, RB T.J. Duckett, WR Shaun McDonald, WR Marcus Robinson, OT George Foster, G Edwin Mulitalo, DE Dewayne White, CB Travis Fisher.
Draft Picks:
QB Drew Stanton, WR Calvin Johnson, G Manny Ramirez, DE Ikaika Alama-Francis, OLB Johnny Baldwin, CB A.J. Davis, CB Ramzee Robinson, S Gerald Alexander.
Major Subtractions:
RB Arlen Harris, RB Artose Pinner, FB Cory Schlesinger (MIA), WR Corey Bradford, WR Scottie Vines, TE Marcus Pollard (SEA), G Ross Verba, C Tyrone Hopson, DE James Hall (STL), DT Marcus Bell (NYG), CB Dre Bly (DEN), CB Jamar Fletcher (HOU), S Terrence Holt (ARZ), S Jon McGraw.

Offense This Year: Players on the Lions sure love to talk. Jon Kitna recently predicted his team will win 57 games this year. In early October, Roy Williams said Detroit was really 5-0 and had the ability to score 40 points per game. In reality, the Lions were 0-5 at that juncture, averaging a meager 17.6 points per contest. Kitna and Williams clearly have been playing Madden too often and have been drugged into thinking that the season saved on their memory card is taking place in real life. That's the only explanation I have.

The Lions actually increased their offensive output the remainder of the year, as they boosted their average to 19.1. There is a good chance they'll continue to improve in 2007. The most obvious reason is Calvin Johnson. The top-ranked wide out in April's draft, chosen second overall, has the talent to make an immediate impact in this league, unlike most rookies. Johnson, who is capable of acrobatic catches and getting open on the top corners in the game, is already penciled into the starting lineup, across from Roy Williams (82 catches, 1,310 yards, 7 TDs). Rounding out the incredible receiving corps are Mike Furrey, who caught 98 passes for 1,086 yards in 2006, and Shaun McDonald, a decent player who has experience in Mike Martz's system.

Speaking of Martz, the so-called offensive genius has always been chastised for two things: not running the ball enough and doing a poor job protecting the quarterback. Detroit's leading rusher was Kevin Jones, who gained only 3.8 yards per carry. While Jones missed a huge portion of the post-Thanksgiving season, he received more than 19 carries on just two occasions. Matt Millen traded for Tatum Bell and signed T.J. Duckett, so it appears the Lions may emphasize the run a bit more in 2007. That said, Duckett's a waste, Bell has fumbling issues and Jones gets hurt too often. I wouldn't count on the ground attack producing much.

As for protecting the quarterback - or not doing so - Martz didn't fail to live up to his reputation, as Kitna was sacked a whopping 63 times in 2006. How is that even possible? How in the world did Kitna not get hurt? I really hope that total drops by at least 20, for Kitna's sake. Thankfully, the front received two additions in left guard Edwin Mulitalo and right tackle George Foster. I'm not a fan of the former, but Foster has a chance to produce in the Motor City. Granted, Foster was benched in Denver, but he was playing in a scheme not suited for his skills. I think he'll prove to be a solid acquisition this season.

Defense This Year: While members of Detroit's offense love to talk trash, players on the defense are mysteriously quiet. Maybe it's because the stop unit is horrible. That's my best guess. The Lions surrendered 24.9 points per game and allowed offenses to score 28 or more on seven occasions. They were ranked 20th against the run, managed only 30 sacks, intercepted just 12 passes and gave up more than 3,500 yards to opposing aerial attacks. Yeah, I'm pretty confident my guess is right on the mark.

I'm searching for signs that the defense will improve, but I can't find much. One area that could get better, however, is the pass rush. Tackle Corey Redding led the team with eight sacks, but the most-productive end was James Hall, who notched only five. Hall was traded to the Rams because Millen signed former Buccaneer Dewayne White to a deal. White managed just five sacks himself in 2006, but keep in mind that he played half the snaps because he was behind Simeon Rice and Greg Spires on the depth chart. White has the talent to be a double-digit sack artist, although it should be noted that he has never been a full-time starter in the NFL. I also have to say that besides White and Redding, no one else on Detroit's roster is capable of generating consistent pressure on the quarterback. The other end, Kalimba Edwards, notched just three sacks in 2006. The fourth member of the line, Shaun Rogers, certainly is talented, but his durability and work ethic have definitely come into question recently.

Another player who could be instrumental to Detroit's improvement on defense is Ernie Sims, who recorded 124 tackles as a rookie last year. Sims, who started all 16 games, can only get better in his sophomore campaign. I wish I could say the same about the linebackers, however. Boss Bailey, like Rogers, is physically gifted, but is often guilty of mental or injury-related lapses. Paris Lenon, who mans the middle of the stop unit, just isn't getting the job done. I think the Lions would like to see Teddy Lehman take over the starting position, but he's coming off two injury-plagued seasons.

One area that definitely won't improve is the secondary. Dre Bly is gone, leaving Fernando Bryant and Stanley Wilson as the top cornerbacks on the depth chart. Bryant, who just turned 30, is a liability because he has missed 26 games the past three seasons. Wilson, a third-year prospect, started the final four contests of 2006 when Bryant was out of the lineup. Millen signed Travis Fisher, who didn't have much success in St. Louis. At safety, the Lions will be going with the hard-hitting Kennoy Kennedy and second-year Daniel Bullocks. The former's fine, but Bullocks was in and out of the lineup last season. Detroit utilized a second-round pick on Gerald Alexander, who might take Bullocks' place by October.

Schedule and Intangibles: Eddie Drummond is a great returner, and since the Lions get to practice against him, you would think they could prevent other teams from scoring on special teams. However, that's not the case; Detroit surrendered four returns for touchdowns the past two seasons. ... Despite his age (37), Jason Hanson is still a reliable kicker; he was 7-of-8 from 40-49 and 3-of-6 from beyond 50 yards in 2006. ... The Lions have one of the worst home-field advantages in the NFL, owning a horrendous 42-46 record since 1996. But if you think that's bad, check out their 18-70 road mark. That's the league's worst visiting record the past 11 years. ... Eight of Detroit's 13 losses were decided by a touchdown or less. The team needs to learn how to come through in crunch time. ... The schedule doesn't seem too bad. The only tough, non-divisional foes are Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, Denver, Dallas and San Diego.

Additional Reading: Endless Banter coming soon.

Positional Rankings (0-4 stars):
Quarterbacks
Offensive Line
Secondary
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams
Receivers
Linebackers
Coaching


Divisional Rival History:
Chicago Bears: Although the Bears have won the last four meetings, the home team has claimed seven of the past 10 battles, seven of which have been decided by six points or less.
Green Bay Packers: The Lions' ineptness has no limit. The Packers have claimed 11 of the last 13 matchups.
Minnesota Vikings: Domination. The Vikings have somehow won 15 of the past 16 meetings.

Fantasy Football:
Jon Kitna: Jon Kitna's not the best or most-accurate quarterback in the world, but he's definitely capable of putting up nice stats in Mike Martz's system.
Projected Stats: 4,300 passing yards. 24 passing TDs. 110 rushing yards. 1 rushing TD.
Projected Fantasy Points: 376.

Kevin Jones: The Lions don't run the ball much, and Kevin Jones has problems staying healthy. When he's in the lineup, however, he does play a role in the passing game; Jones caught 61 passes for 520 yards in 2006.
Projected Stats: 500 rushing yards. 400 receiving yards. 6 total TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 126.

Tatum Bell: Tatum Bell's more reliable than Kevin Jones in terms of staying healthy, but he's a fumbling machine.
Projected Stats: 500 rushing yards. 300 receiving yards. 4 total TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 104.

Dan Campbell: The tight end in Mike Martz's offense doesn't play much of a role outside of blocking.
Projected Stats: 250 receiving yards. 3 TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 43.

Roy Williams: Still the No. 1 receiver despite Calvin Johnson's presence. When healthy, Roy Williams is one of the top wide outs in the game.
Projected Stats: 1,200 receiving yards. 7 TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 162.

Calvin Johnson: I normally have reservations about taking rookies in fantasy football, but I think you'll be OK with Calvin Johnson.
Projected Stats: 1,000 receiving yards. 6 TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 136.

Mike Furrey: Mike Furrey's numbers will likely take a step back with Calvin Johnson on the team.
Projected Stats: 700 receiving yards. 5 TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 100.

Jason Hanson: He's 37, but Jason Hanson still has a few solid seasons left in the tank. He has hit an average of 2.3 50-yard field goals the past four years.
Projected Stats: 25-30 FG (2-4 50+). 38 XP.
Projected Fantasy Points: 123.

Detroit Defense: Start Detroit's defense if you're trying to score the least amount of points in the history of fantasy football.
Projected Fantasy Ranking: Bottom 3 Defense.

Analysis: I have a hunch the Lions are going to fall just a bit short of Jon Kitna's projected win total of 402. In all seriousness, Detroit will be better than it was in 2006. Of course, that's not really saying much. I can confidently predict, however, that the Lions will be fun to watch on offense.

Projection: 5-11 (3rd in the NFC North)


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