DETROIT LIONS (9-8)
EXPECTATIONS: Playoffs?! Yes. Detroit is favored to win the NFC North, hoping to end a three-decade drought without a division title. The Lions haven’t been in the playoffs since 2016 and have only one postseason victory since winning the 1957 NFL title. With a potent offense and improved defense, one of the league’s historically bad franchises is expected to have success. Detroit closed last season with eight wins in its last 10 games and had a winning season for the first time since 2017, then addressed needs in free agency and the draft to generate relatively high hopes. Coach Dan Campbell said the hype was out of control entering training camp. When season tickets were sold out later in the summer for the first time in two-plus decades at Ford Field, Campbell said he felt “wind underneath my freaking wings.”
NEW FACES: RB David Montgomery, RB Jahmyr Gibbs, WR Marvin Jones, TE Sam LaPorta, CB Cameron Sutton, DB C.J. Gardner-Johnson, LB Jack Campbell, CB Emmanuel Moseley, G Graham Glasgow, K Riley Patterson, QB Teddy Bridgewater.
KEY LOSSES: RB D’Andre Swift, RB Jamaal Williams, WR DJ Chark, C Evan Brown, CB Jeff Okudah, S DeShon Elliott, CB Mike Hughes, DE Michael Brockers.
STRENGTHS: Detroit’s offensive line is among the league’s best. OTs Penei Sewell and Taylor Decker along with C Frank Ragnow give QB Jared Goff time to throw, usually to WR Amon-Ra St. Brown, and room to run for Montgomery and Gibbs. Special teams get a boost from Kalif Raymond and punter Jack Fox.
WEAKNESSES: There isn’t much depth at WR behind St. Brown, especially with second-year pro Jameson Williams suspended for six games for breaking the NFL’s rules on gambling. Detroit chose not to address its biggest void by passing on DT Jalen Carter in the draft, leaving a lackluster tandem of Alim McNeill and Isaiah Buggs.
CAMP DEVELOPMENT: Detroit drafted DB Brian Branch with the 45th pick overall for a reason, but the former Alabama star may play an even larger role than expected right away as a rookie. The second-team All-America may earn a lot of snaps at nickel as a hard-hitting cover corner.
FANTASY PLAYER TO WATCH: St. Brown has 196 catches for 2,073 yards and 11 touchdowns in his two seasons. Goff loves to throw to the sure-handed receiver, who regularly catches balls out of the JUGS machine after practices in a quest to be one of the best.
FANDUEL SPORTSBOOK SAYS: Win Super Bowl: 21-1. Over/under wins: 9 1/2.
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL