NFL Preview: Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears

This article is part of a series previewing the 2018-2019 NFL season where we will cover quick notes on all 32 NFL teams, favorite potential storylines, win-loss predictions, the playoff picture, and my picks to compete in Super Bowl LIII.

Detroit Lions

Newly acquired running back LeGarrette Blount has been on each of the last two Super Bowl winning teams.  Can he do it for the third year in a row?!?! No.  Absolutely not.

The Lions have been in no-mans-land the past five seasons, registering two 7-9 seasons, two 9-7 seasons, and an impressive 11-5 season where they lost to division rival Green Bay in week 17 for the division title, and then losing to the Dallas Cowboys in the wild card the next weekend.  A great team typically has multiple top tier players on their roster, but when you consistently draft in the 17 to 22 range of the NFL draft, and your team is in Detroit, it is next to impossible to bring in those blue chippers.  This year is no different.  The Lions are an average roster, but not because they have a bunch of great players with some major holes.  They are average because their roster is filled with average players no glaring weaknesses.  Just average, and boring as hell.

Matt Stafford is entering his tenth season as the signal caller for the Lions after being the reward for the first 0-16 team in NFL history.  If Philip Rivers is the most underrated quarterback of the previous ten years, Stafford is second on that list.  When it is all said and done, there is a good chance that Stafford will finish in the top 15 in every important passing statistic in NFL history.  Football is played differently now that it was twenty years ago, but that does not mean Stafford’s achievements are not impressive.  Stafford has an impactful core of three receivers he can count on with the underappreciated Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, and breakout candidate Kenny Golladay.  The Lions pass offense ranked sixth in the league in 2017, but dead last in rushing offense.  The running back group is now four deep, with the hope second round rookie Kerryon Johnson can establish himself as the lead back that Stafford has never had during his NFL career (Jahvid Best for two games does not count).  The offensive line provides five quality starters, but like the rest of the roster, no elite talent.  That is not a bad thing when talking about offensive line play, because the NFL struggles to bring in pro-ready lineman with the development of the spread offenses throughout the college level.  Stafford and the Lions will continue to have a good passing game, but to take the next step to becoming a top ten offense, the running game must improve.  It does not have to be great, just average… see the trend yet?  So much fun…

New head coach Matt Patricia, formerly the defensive coordinator for Bill Belichick, was the mastermind of the New England Patriots defense since 2012 and looks to establish his own culture in Detroit.  A lot of critics are giving Patricia shit for the Patriots defensive performance in Super LII against the Eagles, but if you looked at the Patriots roster, it is honestly incredible that they made it back to the Super Bowl last season.  They had zero pass rush, their middle linebacker missed most of the season, and they sat their Super Bowl hero, Malcom Butler, for the biggest game of the year.  There must be a dead body somewhere in Massachusetts for Butler not to have played in that game… fuck, too soon?

The problem that Patricia is going to have this season is like his last season in New England—they do not have a lot of talented guys.  And unlike the Patriots organization, the Lions do not have a winning culture, and it is going to take some time to align a franchise to a different set of core values they are not used to.  The Lions do not have a standout on the defensive line, but are reasonably deep, having eight guys that can be trusted come week one.  FS Glover Quin and CB Darius Slay are the only trustworthy players in the secondary, and all the pressure is on MLB Jarrad Davis to adjust to his new position to have some kind of contribution in the middle of the defense.  I have a feeling this will be another defense that is ripped apart by opposing offenses, putting all the pressure on Stafford to makeup for it, per usual.

The Lions are by far the most boring team in the NFC but are fortunate in the fact they play in the fun conference.  Imagine the if the Lions and Patriots switched divisions and the Lions played the Jets, Dolphins, and Bills twice a year.  That is every football fan’s worst nightmare.  There would be riots in the streets to disband those four franchises.  Thankfully that is not a reality, but this is—Matt Stafford, like Russell Wilson, is too good for his team not to win at least five games, but with a new coach in place, there will be growing pains.  After week one against the Jets, the Lions have a brutal schedule (@SF, NE, @DAL, and GB) before their bye week.  That could easily turn into 2-3 or 1-4.  An uphill climb in a tough division is not going to end well.

Favorite Potential Storyline:  I am a big Matt Stafford fan.  I believe if he got hurt early in the season, the Lions might get the first pick in the 2019 draft.  I do not wish injuries upon anyone because that is just a ridiculous thing to do, but I am interested who is more valuable to their franchise at this very moment: Stafford or Russell Wilson?  I think it is closer than people would think…

Prediction: 6-10 (3rd in NFC North)

Chicago Bears

The Chicago Bears are my “one year away” winner in the NFC in 2018.  I am a huge fan of everything the Bears did in the 2018 offseason.  The move from John Fox, who could be Jeff Fisher’s coaching twin, to former Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy alone will drastically improve this team.  The Bears lack of offensive playmakers paired with the horrid offensive scheme put out week to week was just flat out embarrassing.  Mitch Trubisky had about a -25% chance of succeeding last season.  With the arrival of Nagy, Trubisky is now going to have a coach that can install an offense that fits his strengths and can allow him to get the ball off quick, like how the Chiefs and Eagles played in 2017.  The Bears also prioritized adding receiving threats to the roster, after having the worst receiving core in the NFL last season.  The Bears brought in Pro Bowler WR Allen Robinson (one of my favorite Nittany Lions of all time that made even Christian Hackenberg look good), WR Taylor Gabriel, and Super Bowl hero TE Trey Burton.  The front office also drafted WR Anthony Miller in the third round of the 2018 draft, and early indications show that he could have been on of the steals of the entire draft.  Combine these acquisitions with the backfield duo of Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen, and you go from one of the worst skilled position groups in the NFL to potential one of the better ones.  The offensive line when healthy is formidable, and with the addition of C/G James Daniels in the second round, there is a lot to be excited about with this unit going forward.  I think it might take a year for this offense to get comfortable in Nagy’s system, and Trubisky needs another season to get acclimated since Fox did a piss poor job of that last season.  This offense has the chance to surprise people in 2018, but I would not be surprised if they are just average this year while Nagy and Trubisky build up their relationship, like Carson Wentz and Doug Peterson in Philly during Wentz’s first season.

The defense played well all of 2018, finishing tenth in yards allowed per game, and ninth in points allowed per game.  This all coming despite the fact the defensive line could not generate any pressure.  Unless OLB Leonard Floyd can turn in around in year three after the Bears took him in the top ten of the 2016 NFL draft, I do not see one guy at defensive line or outside linebacker being a long-term solution for this team.  The inside linebackers on this team are loaded with first round pick Roquan Smith hoping to be the next great Bears middle linebacker, along the likes of Mike Singletary and Brian Urlacher, who are both Hall of Famers.  With Danny Trevathan next to Smith, these guys will be blowing up plays before they can even dream of getting more than a yard or two.  The young safety tandem of Adrian Amos and Eddie Jackson are one of the best in the league and look to be a middle classmen’s version Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas pair.  CB Kyle Fuller returns after the Bears matched his restricted free agent offer sheet, but after that, the cornerback position is not a deep one for the franchise.  The lack of production from up front and the lack of depth at corner is going to be an issue all season long, and that makes me hesitant to think the defense is going to improve upon their 2017 performance.  The Bears are going to have around $36 million in cap room going into the 2019 offseason, and general manager Ryan Pace will be looking to use this money to sure up his defense after making offense the priority in 2018.

The Bears start the 2018 season against the Green Bay Packer in Lambeau Field, so that will probably not go well for them, but there next four games are winnable (SEA, @ARI, TB, and @MIA after their bye).  There is a world where the Bears start the season 4-1, and the media is going to go nuts, just like they did in 2016 with the Philadelphia Eagles, who also had a favorable schedule early on.  Like the Eagles, I think the Bears will come back to earth, and finish with an average season at best, but show flashes of their potential throughout the season.  We all know what happened for the Eagles the following season.  I do not want to put the Bears in that category, but I think 2019 is the year Bears fans should be eyeing up.  The development of Trubisky should be the focal point for the Bears organization in 2018.  If he shows the ability to be the franchise guy, it is up to the front office to round out the roster to compete for the playoffs in 2019.

Favorite Potential Storyline:  The Roquan Smith contract holdout was an interesting one, where the Bears were hesitant to give Smith financial protection if he received a suspension for the new NFL helmet rule.  I thought that was kind of cheap of the Bears, and now that they give in, it would be funny if it bites them in the ass, and Smith misses like three games because of the dumb rule.

Prediction: 6-10 (4th in NFC North)

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