WELCOME BACK: Lions ground game. It has been anemic since Barry Sanders retired after the 1998 season, and in 2017 Detroit ranked dead last with 3.4 yards per attempt. That's why GM Bob Quinn spent his first-round pick on road-grading Arkansas guard FRANK RAGNOW and his second-rounder on Auburn tailback KERRYON JOHNSON. With a system that affords MATTHEW STAFFORD the freedom to check in and out of runs at the line of scrimmage, the pieces are in place for a rejuvenated rushing attack.
Stafford has led 20 fourth-quarter comebacks over the last four years, the most in the league. One reason: He can use his exceptional arm to attack the spaces that open up in Cover 2, which is what teams most commonly use when protecting a lead.
THEO RIDDICK remains one of the three or four best pass-catching backs in football, especially on angle and option routes. He poses significant problems for defenses out of three-receiver sets because the play design naturally links his route to that of their inside receiver GOLDEN TATE. That often means linebackers must try to take on Riddick's imposing combination of underneath speed and shiftiness.
New coach MATT PATRICIA'S defensive scheme demands versatile defensive backs, and the Lions have several: Corners TEEZ TABOR, NEVIN LAWSON and DESHAWN SHEAD are experienced at playing outside and in the slot. Projected slot starter QUANDRE DIGGS—maybe the best player nobody talks about—flourished as a fast, hard-hitting fill-in safety late last year. Veterans TAVON WILSON and GLOVER QUIN have experience playing deep and in the box. Patricia also has a true No. 1 cornerback to build around in DARIUS SLAY.
Second-year linebacker JARRAD DAVIS has uncanny physical talent. He's thick and limber, and he glides, almost as if he's playing on skates. If the 6'2", 227-pound Davis can become more comfortable in coverage (he had to leave the field in certain nickel situations late last season) he'll be one of the NFL's premier players.
2017 RECORD 9W 7L
SI'S 2018 PREDICTION 10W 6L
10th JETS [Monday]
22nd BEARS [Thursday]
MATTHEW STAFFORD is impressively durable—he's started every game for the last seven seasons—and he has one of the NFL's best arms. Not only can he rifle the ball, but he can also flick it with pinpoint accuracy from different arm angles and stances.