The Detroit Lions slipped back to their losing ways last season, dropping their final eight games to flop to 4-12, making their appearance in the 2011 playoffs look like a fluke.
The approach this season is to make last season look like a fluke.
"We're excited to get back out there and kind of get the bad taste out of our mouth from last year," quarterback Matthew Stafford said. "I'm going to be the one spearheading the charge and getting this going in the right direction."
Detroit desperately needs Stafford to live up to its investment in him — $76.5 million over the next five years thanks to an extension on July 10 — by connecting with Calvin Johnson through the air and taking advantage of Reggie Bush on the ground.
The Lions, though, will likely rise or fall depending on how the Ndamukong Suh-led defense does with a lot of new faces. And if Detroit doesn't win enough to earn a spot in the postseason, it might cost coach Jim Schwartz his job.
Five things to know about the Lions:
1. SCHWARTZ NEEDS 10 WINS: Schwartz is 22-42 in four seasons as a first-time head coach at any level. He didn't inherit a good situation, taking over a team coming off the NFL's first 0-16 situation, but he's got to prove he's the right guy for the job. Entering his fifth season, he needs to win perhaps 10 games — as the Lions did with him two years ago — to boost his chances of coming back for a sixth year.
2. STAFFORD NEEDS TO EARN HIS KEEP: Stafford slipped last season and can't afford to have another setback. Armed with a $53 million, three-year extension, the quarterback is being counted on to be more accurate after completing less than 60 percent of his passes in 2012. The Lions also can't afford for Stafford to sustain his record against good teams. He's 1-22 against teams that finished with a winning record for a .043 winning percentage that is better than only Randy Johnson's .036 success rate among QBs with at least 20 such starts since 1950, according to STATS.
3. SUH NEEDS MORE THAN SO-SO SEASON: Suh might be next in line to cash in with a new deal following extensions for Stafford and Johnson over the past 15 months. The Lions hope he earns it after a career-low 24 tackles last year by perhaps surpassing his career high of 10 sacks — set as a rookie in 2010. Suh, meanwhile, wants to be known as a player who hits hard and clean — not cheap and dirty — after some missteps stained the early part of his career. He'll get a chance to lead a unit with two new starters on the line, one at linebacker and two or three in the secondary.
4. GIVE IT TO REGGIE! Bush wants to play every down. The Lions want that to happen, too, because they've been missing a big-play threat out of the backfield since Oct. 16, 2011, when Jahvid Best appeared to have had a career-ending concussion. Detroit signed Bush to a $16 million, four-year contract in March, hoping to get a blend of what he did for his first two teams. He was handed the ball 443 times in Miami, and ran for 4.7 yards per carry for a total of 2,072 yards in two years. Bush ran for 2,094 yards on 524 carries — 4 yards per attempt — over six years with the New Orleans Saints. He had 161 receptions during his first two seasons after being drafted No. 2 overall in 2006, and 78 catches the last two years.
5. NEW OL LINE NEEDS TO COME THROUGH: Detroit will have three new starters on the offensive line, and if that proves to be a good thing Stafford and Co. will be tough to stop. Riley Reiff will likely be at left tackle, a position vacated when Jeff Backus retired. The right tackle job probably goes to either Corey Hilliard or Jason Fox. Right guard is up for grabs between veterans Leroy Harris and Jake Scott along with rookie Larry Warford and 24-year-old Rodney Austin. The Lions chose not to re-sign right tackle Gosder Cherilus and cut guard Stephen Peterman.
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