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NFC North Preview: Detroit Lions

By Derek Helling

No preview of the upcoming football season in Detroit would be complete without a thorough review of the tumultuous offseason the franchise just had.

Nick Fairly is one of many Lions to be arrested during the offseason. How will these off-the-field issues affect the team? (Leon Halip/Getty Images North America)

The issues that arose had nothing to do with player contracts, filling coaching vacancies or a struggle to fill holes in the team via free agency or the draft.  All the problems the Lions had were off the field with the team’s players getting in legal trouble.

The latest Detroit player to have a run-in with the authorities is defensive lineman Nick Fairley, who was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol on May 27, 2012.  It was the second arrest since the 2011 season ended for Fairley, who is joined in that stain by Lions running back Mikel LeShoure.  All in all since the Lions were eliminated in the playoffs last season, there have been seven players arrested.

This series of events is unfortunate because the franchise is coming off one of its best seasons.

The 10-6 record and wild-card berth were the first playoff appearance for Detroit since the days of Wayne Fontes, Scott Mitchell, Herman Moore and Barry Sanders.  Much of that talent has returned for the Lions and the team has expectations of building on that success in 2012.

Calvin Johnson is one of, if not the NFL's best receivers, which makes life easy on QB Matthew Stafford. (None/Getty Images North America)

Quarterback Matthew Stafford played an entire season for the first time in 2011 and had a Pro Bowl year.  He finished third in passing yardage with 5,038 yards and completed 63.8% of his passes to go along with 41 touchdowns.

His primary target that was given a 10 year, $120 million contract extension during the offseason, Calvin Johnson, is also healthy.  There is little reason to expect any decrease in production on the offensive side.  Questions abound on the defensive side of the ball, however.

The most glaring weakness on the defensive side is the questionably talented, short on experience secondary.  In a division with Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler, this could become a serious issue.  Three of the four cornerbacks on the roster are rookies, and the lone veteran Chris Houston is a journey man that has never reached the level of solid starter.

The schedule is not a complete gauntlet but not a cake walk either.

The Lions open up at home with what should be a victory over the Rams then travel to San Francisco for the Sunday night game of Week Two.

Games at Tennessee and against Minnesota at home lead them into their bye.  They should reach their break at 3-1 if not 4-0.  Coming off the bye week there are some challenges.

Two road games at Philadelphia and Chicago are followed by a home game against the Seahawks.  Relief comes the next two weeks with road games at Jacksonville and Minnesota but those games are followed by home dates with the Packers and Texans.

Another home game against the Colts could act as a trap game for the Lions who will be looking ahead to a road showdown in Green Bay the following week.  The next two games have Detroit at Arizona and home for the Falcons before what could be a wild-card qualifier in Detroit against the Bears to finish the regular season.

Given the questions in the secondary and uncertainty at the running back position, it’s hard to see how the Lions will improve on 10-6.  If defenses can somehow contain Stafford-Johnson, or simply keep them on the sideline by controlling the clock on offense, the Lions could be defeated.

Getting deep into the playoffs will depend on the Lions’ secondary growing up and other weapons emerging in the offense.

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