The Lions have never won the NFC North -- their last division title was in 1993 when it was still called the Central -- and they aren't likely to get a better chance any time soon. After all, the Packers lost starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers for essentially eight games and the Bears lost their starting QB, Jay Cutler, for nearly six. Plus the Vikings were awful. Detroit was in the driver's seat for the division twice: Following a 21-19 week 10 win at Chicago, and then again after a 40-10 blowout of Green Bay on Thanksgiving. Then the Lions started turning the ball over like crazy, and they lost their final four games, finished 7-9, and missed the postseason for the 13th time in 14 seasons.
On the bright side, Matthew Stafford threw for 4,650 yards and 29 touchdowns, although his 19 interceptions are too many. Calvin Johnson continued to show he is the most unguardable receiver in the NFL, catching 84 balls for 1,492 yards and 12 scores. Running back Reggie Bush proved to be a great addition as he rushed for 1,006 yards and caught 54 passes. He and Joique Bell formed a fine backfield combo. The defense was also solid. By most numerical categories this should have been a better team, but they turned the ball over a ton in the second half of the season.
Key Offseason Moves
The Lions have been looking for a competent No. 2 receiver for years to take the pressure of Johnson, and they hope to have found one in Seahawks free agent Golden Tate. He led Seattle with 64 catches for 898 yards and five scores. There's also talk that the Lions will target a receiver with their first-round pick in the draft... maybe a trade up for Sammy Watkins? Detroit also re-signed tight end Brandon Pettigrew. The major losses were defensive lineman Willie Young, safety Louis Delmas, and backup QB Shaun Hill.
Meanwhile, Caldwell was not the Lions' first choice to replace Schwartz. Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt was, but he took the Titans job. Caldwell spent last season as Baltimore's offensive coordinator, and that group struggled in a big way. Caldwell coached the Colts from 2009-11, and was 26-22. He did win two playoff games with Indy in his first season, which is more postseason victories than the Lions have since 1957, the year of their last title.
2014 Schedule (all
Week 1: Monday, Sept. 8, N.Y. Giants, 7:10 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 14, at Carolina, 1 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 21, Green Bay, 1 p.m.
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 28, at NY Jets, 1 p.m.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 5, Buffalo, 1 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 12, at Minnesota, 1 p.m.
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 19, New Orleans, 1 p.m.
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 26, at Atlanta, 9:30 a.m. (in London)
Week 9: BYE
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 9, Miami, 1 p.m.
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 16, at Arizona, 4:25 p.m.
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 23, at New England, 1 p.m.
Week 13: Thursday, Nov. 27, Chicago, 12:30 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 7, Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 14, Minnesota, 1 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 21, at Chicago, 1 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 28, at Green Bay, 1 p.m.
Detroit's schedule is dead in the middle of the NFL's 32 teams with an opponents' 2013 winning percentage of .492. The Lions play five games against playoff teams.
It seems fitting that the Lions open the season against the Giants. New York, with absolutely nothing to play for, won 23-20 in overtime in Week 16 at Ford Field to officially eliminate the Lions from the postseason. The Giants went for it on fourth-and-7 from the Detroit 42 in overtime, then hit on a 15-yard pass to set up the winning kick. They had tied the game on a 38-yard interception return for a score with under five minutes left. Schwartz opted not to try to get into field-goal range when the Lions had the ball at their own 25 with 23 seconds left, and two timeouts. Detroit opened as a 3.5-point favorite on NFL odds for this game. It hasn't opened the season on a Monday night since 1971.
On a positive note, the Lions don't have any two-game road swings in the first half of the season as they alternate home and away every week. The NFL is allowing that 9:30 a.m. Eastern time kick in London to see what type of ratings a start that early might get on television in the USA. Clearly the crucial part of Detroit's schedule after the bye is that three-game homestand, which is sandwiched by two-game road trips. It's the second straight year in which the Lions visit Arizona. They lost there 25-21 in Week 2 in 2013 on a Cardinals 1-yard TD run with 1:59 left.
Winter weather figures to be a major factor in Week 16 in Chicago and Week 17 in Green Bay, and the Lions haven't been a great cold-weather team. Detroit has lost five of its past six in Chicago (they did win there last year), and will be looking to snap a 23-game losing streak in Wisconsin to the Packers.
Free NFL Picks: 'Under' 8 wins at -110 on NFL odds. This feels a lot like it might be a push. Avoiding a true road game in Atlanta's Georgia Dome is an advantage, although the Lions prefer playing indoors. Detroit seems unlikely to be at eight wins by Week 16 and will be an underdog at sportsbooks in those two final road games in the elements. In addition, if Stafford goes down, the Lions are in deep trouble, as Kellen Moore is the likely No. 2. He has never taken a regular-season snap.