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Home Of 500 Handicappers
Where: Ford Field, Detroit, Michigan
The Detroit Lions seemingly tried to erase most of the good vibes of their first playoff appearance in 12 years with one of the most dubious offseasons in recent memory. There was Matthew Stafford’s preseason injury scare, which would have been much more devastating to Lions’ fans than all the arrests. Luckily, Stafford is no worse for the wear and is ready to help the Lions put the nightmarish offseason behind them at home Sunday against the Jeff Fisher-led St. Louis Rams. Fisher, the former longtime Tennessee Titans coach, will try to turn around a franchise that has averaged five wins over the last five seasons.
ABOUT THE RAMS (2011: 2-14): Fisher, who took the 2011 season off after spending 17 years with Tennessee, inherits a team was decimated by injuries last season. The Rams placed 11 cornerbacks on injured reserve and QB Sam Bradford, the No. 1 overall pick in 2010, struggled while playing through a sprained ankle. As a result, the Rams averaged a league-worst 12.1 points. Bradford was sacked a league-high 55 times in 2011, so new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer will likely utilize a quick-strike passing attack mixed with a heavy dose of old reliable Steven Jackson (seven straight 1,000-yard seasons). Speedy second-round pick Isaiah Pead will provide a change of pace. Defensively, St. Louis was second-to-last against the run last season (152.1 ypg), and first-round DT Michael Brockers was brought in to help, but he is out two to four weeks with the dreaded high-ankle sprain. Up front, DE Chris Long (13 sacks) and second-year stud DE Robert Quinn (five sacks) will supply ample pressure. The secondary, meanwhile, should be improved with the additions of second-round pick Janoris Jenkins and former Pro Bowler Cortland Finnegan, who played for Fisher in Tennessee.
ABOUT THE LIONS (2011: 10-6): Seven Detroit players were arrested in the offseason, including defensive tackle Nick Fairley, departed cornerback Aaron Berry and running back Mikel Leshoure, who each were arrested twice. It’s almost enough to make you forget Calvin Johnson’s ridiculous 2011 season – almost, but not quite. Johnson was unstoppable, hauling in 96 passes for an NFL-best 1,681 yards and 16 touchdowns. Megatron’s breakout season was the by-product of Stafford – the league’s Comeback Player of the Year – staying healthy for a full 16-game season for the first time in his career. Stafford passed for franchise records of 5,038 yards and 41 touchdowns. The former No. 1 overall pick had Lions’ fans holding their breath after injuring his non-throwing hand in the third preseason game, but it turned out to be a broken blood vessel. Like last season, Stafford will be passing a lot, since the rushing attack (29th- 95.2 ypg in 2011) will again be a weakness. Kevin Smith will be the featured tailback while Jahvid Best (post-concussion syndrome) and Leshoure (two-game suspension) are out. Detroit’s pass defense (239.4 ypg -22nd) is the main area that needs to improve from last season. The addition of third-round pick Dwight Bentley and Monday’s signing of free agent CB Drayton Florence may help.
1. The Lions won three games in which they trailed by at least 17 points last season, an NFL record.
2. The Rams averaged a mere 179.2 passing yards last season, 23rd in the league.
3. Stafford, Dan Marino and Drew Brees are the only players to pass for more than 5,000 yards and 40 TDs in one season.