The Lions came in 18th in the initial rankings, nestled right between two teams they face this season: Atlanta at No. 17 and Tampa Bay at No. 19. As one of the power rankings voters, I actually had the Lions a shade higher than the consensus, dropping them in at No. 16 (my power rankings vote is below).
Talent-wise, there is little question Detroit should be higher on this list. Yet there are the same old questions when it comes to the Lions. Can this new coaching staff turn the consistent mediocrity of the franchise into something else? Will the penalties ever stop? Will Matthew Stafford take the steps he needs to in order to become a great quarterback?
How do the new schemes fit? Can the secondary hold up?
Just with those questions alone, I think you get my point that there are just too many unknowns about the Lions at this point to really put them any higher than the middle of the pack.
Here's how I'm going to handle my vote every week: I'm not going to base things just on where a team was the week before. I'm going to take into account who they played, how they played, and where it fit into the schedule. So there might be some radical shifting from week to week, but I'll be open for any discussion in the comments, etc.
So have at it, and remember, this is the preseason version so a lot can change by next week:
The Lions took a gamble when they were unable to get a deal done with star defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh before the start of the season. They are aware, too, that tabling negotiations with him at the start of training camp meant they’ll have a much smaller window to work with to sign Suh after the season.
Houston defensive end J.J. Watt -- who, like Suh, is considered the best at his position in the NFL -- earned a six-year, $100 million contract extension with a reported $51.8 million guaranteed, the most guaranteed cash ever for a defensive player.
He and the Texans got the deal done with two seasons left on his rookie deal so the two sides never came close to the potential sweat-it-out deadline the Lions and Suh appear barreling toward.
The Watt deal, if divided equally -- and we don’t know specifics yet -- would equate to $16.6 million per season. While Suh and Watt play different positions, that’s probably around the range Suh would be trying to earn.
Like Watt, Suh has been healthy throughout his career and has been dominant as his position. Like Watt, teams have to game plan around Suh when they face him, which opens up holes for everyone else on the defense.
There’s another thing in play, too, when it comes to this particular Watt deal. Watt is represented by Tom Condon, which is part of CAA. Suh is represented by Jimmy Sexton.
His firm? CAA.
This, right here, is why it never made sense for Suh to strike a deal with Detroit earlier than he needed to. Yes, he could have set the market with his contract, but there would have also been the possibility he might have seen Watt or Gerald McCoy earn more money than him. And while money isn’t everything, it is still a very big thing for players who have a limited window to maximize their earning potential.
After Watt’s deal and with the Lions calling off talks with Suh for a while, this also gives McCoy a chance to set a defensive tackle number. Oh, and by the way, McCoy is represented by Ben Dogra.
His firm? Yep, you guessed it ... CAA.
While Suh has never explained why he ditched Relativity Sports for CAA, you might be seeing exactly why he did play out throughout all of these contract extensions. CAA is being able to work to set the numbers for Watt, McCoy and Suh and happen to represent all of them, so they theoretically know what they are getting into with each deal.
When contract negotiations do resume between Sexton, Suh and the Lions after the season, this is the new baseline the player and his agent are going to work with. Since Suh has a clock ticking until he can test his true worth on the free agent market in March, he continues to hold increasing leverage over the Lions, who will have to decide whether or not to let the game-changing tackle go.
Both team president Tom Lewand and general manager Martin Mayhew appeared optimistic they would still sign Suh when they halted contract talks in July. That was before Watt. Potentially before McCoy.
So good morning, Tom Lewand and Martin Mayhew. You’re not negotiating with Suh until at least January. When the new year hits, this is what you’ll be looking at.
So Saturday came and went and when Moore was still here, he was happy.
"Concerned that you never know," Moore said. "Just the business is very much changing. We've been very fortunate. Been in the NFL for three years and been able to be in Detroit. We enjoy it here."
This season could have been a little bit more concerning than the first two, too, because of what has happened to Moore off the field. Earlier in training camp, he became a father for the first time. So now he had to worry not only about a wife, but a son, Kyler, to support.
Moore said he and his wife Julie were aware of the possibility he might not be in Detroit this year, but are glad to still be with the Lions.
"He played well," Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. "He did a very, very nice job. Obviously being able to lead a group at the end of those ball games where he was able to get us in position to win."
Now that Moore is on the roster, the bigger question is if he'll be in the No. 3 role permanently or if he'll have a chance to push Dan Orlovsky for the No. 2 spot. The Lions kept him because of his performance during training camp, where he appeared to outplay the former Lions' starter.
"I think we've got roles and our job is to do the best we can in that role," Moore said. "The most important thing now is helping Matthew (Stafford) through the game week, whatever we can do on our end. That's the way it is."
And now, on to Lions news from around the Interwebs:
- Nick Fairley is back in the Lions' starting lineup -- and he's hired a chef to help control his eating habits. Safety James Ihedigbo sits out of practice, but says he'll be ready to go Monday night. The Lions unofficially release a depth chart. Jim Caldwell says everything with the Lions depends on him. Short-term injured reserve is possible for Kyle Van Noy. Breaking down the Lions' 53-man roster.
- A telling stat about every NFL quarterback. Predictions from every ESPN NFC reporter.
- Jim Caldwell is not sure why Michael Sam is currently unemployed, writes Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.
- Darius Slay is more confident this season, writes Terry Foster in the Detroit News.
- Jerome Couplin, and others, switch numbers, writes Kyle Meinke of MLive.
- This story, about the Air Force football team adopting a child with brain cancer, is pretty inspiring from Benjamin Hochman of the Denver Post.
ESPN.com Detroit Lions reporter Michael Rothstein makes his game-by-game picks for the 2014 season.
Week 1: New York Giants
The offense and defense for the Lions will still have some mystery to them in the first week, so that should help the Lions here. Add in a raucous "Monday Night Football" crowd and a Giants offense that has a lot of questions -- especially on the line -- and it should give Detroit a good start to the season. Prediction: Win
Week 2: at Carolina Panthers
The Panthers have the type of team that could give the Lions fits this season: strong-armed, mobile quarterback (Cam Newton), a good running back (DeAngelo Williams) and a deep, threatening wide receiver (Kelvin Benjamin). Combine that with a tough road environment and a team with playoff experience, and this won't be an easy game at all, though this is the type of game in which Nick Fairley could have a monster impact, given that playing his old Auburn teammate will surely motivate him. Prediction: Loss
Week 3: Green Bay Packers
The Lions played very well against the Packers at Ford Field this past season, but that was without Aaron Rodgers. As long as Rodgers is healthy, Detroit will struggle against Green Bay and the Rodgers/Eddie Lacy/Jordy Nelson/Randall Cobb offense should keep pace with the Lions' offense. Prediction: Loss
Week 4: at New York Jets
The Jets have issues at cornerback, a young quarterback still learning and questions at receiver -- typically a spot where opponents might exploit Detroit this season. This is a great combination for Detroit, which has the offense to take advantage of this scenario. Prediction: Win
Week 5: Buffalo Bills
Bills defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz knows this personnel well and could know how to fluster Matthew Stafford, but the Lions have too much talent on offense and defense for the Bills. The most interesting thing about this game will be the reception Schwartz receives. Prediction: Win
Week 6: at Minnesota Vikings
The Lions are playing with confidence here off two straight wins, and the Vikings still have a lot of questions beyond Adrian Peterson. If Matt Cassel is struggling, there will be calls for Teddy Bridgewater at this point -- and playing in those situations never really bodes well. Prediction: Win
Week 7: New Orleans Saints
There's just a little bit of familiarity between these two teams, but the Saints have an advantage here because Sean Payton and the Saints understand so much of what Detroit will do offensively. Yes, that works both ways, but New Orleans is a more talented group with one of the best coaches in the NFL. He'll devise wrinkles to take advantage of any issues that might arise from said familiarity. Prediction: Loss
Week 8: at Atlanta Falcons
Julio Jones and Roddy White will be an issue for Detroit's secondary, and Matt Ryan is still a top quarterback, but the Lions should have more experience dealing with high-powered offenses by this point. Meanwhile, Detroit's offense will be looking for a big rebound game after struggling against New Orleans. Prediction: Win
Week 10: Miami Dolphins
Cameron Wake will be a problem, but otherwise, this is a team Detroit should have a lot more talent than. Playing at home will help as well, along with a bye week to nurse any lingering wounds and jet lag from playing in London two weeks prior. Prediction: Win
Week 11: at Arizona Cardinals
Detroit almost won in Arizona this past season, but missed field goals and defensive struggles doomed the Lions. The Cardinals should be able to match Detroit offensively, and teams that can do that will be a bugaboo for Detroit all season. Prediction: Loss
Week 12: at New England Patriots
From the West Coast to the Midwest to the East Coast in a week is a rough schedule. New England is also one of the best coached teams in the league, and by mid-November, Foxborough should be frosty. Not a good combination for the Lions. Prediction: Loss
Week 13: Chicago Bears
Detroit snapped its Thanksgiving losing streak against Green Bay this past season and should continue that momentum this season. The Bears' offense will be an issue as long as Jay Cutler is healthy, but as long as Detroit's offensive line can handle Chicago's pressure, the Lions have a good shot here. For whatever reason, both Ndamukong Suh and Fairley always seem to play well against the Bears. Prediction: Win
Week 14: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
This is a complete wild-card game, but Lovie Smith knows Detroit's personnel and has an improved, talented team. This is a swing game for the Lions, but the Buccaneers' defense could stand up well against Detroit's offense. Prediction: Loss
Week 15: Minnesota Vikings
Unless Minnesota makes a surprising playoff run, Teddy Bridgewater will likely be the quarterback by now. Teryl Austin and Suh will have to like that matchup, as they can really try to pressure him. Plus, the Lions will need this to stay in the playoff hunt. Prediction: Win
Week 16: at Chicago Bears
The schedule-makers did Detroit no favors, between the mid-November bicoastal swing and this: back-to-back games at Chicago and Green Bay to end the season. Late December winds off Lake Michigan plus an essential playoff elimination game on the road doesn't bode well for the Lions. Prediction: Loss
Week 17: at Green Bay Packers
The Lions have not won in Wisconsin since 1991. Don't expect that streak to end here, as Lambeau Field will be downright frigid, the Packers could be playing for a first-round bye in the playoffs and Detroit might not be playing for much, season-wise, except to finish Jim Caldwell's first season at .500. Prediction: Loss
Predicted Record: 8-8
At the time he was heavier than he wanted to be and had not been playing how he -- or the Lions coaches -- wanted him to. His weight had always been an issue and part of the reason he ended up as an inconsistent yet gifted player his first three seasons in Detroit.
It was then where Fairley called his agent and agreed to a suggestion his agent had made months earlier to help control Fairley’s sometimes-bad eating habits. Nick Fairley would hire a chef.
“He started,” Fairley said. “His first day was two Saturdays ago.”
Before, Fairley’s weight would legitimately fluctuate by the week depending on what he ate. If he stopped consistently for fast food, he’d be up at least at 315 pounds. If he stayed and ate at the Lions’ cafeteria, he said he would be at the weight he wanted, which is 305 pounds.
Right now, he says, he weighs between 305 and 310 pounds. To keep the weight where it is, the chef drops off a week’s worth of meals, including breakfast, lunch and dinner -- with dinners sometimes being baked chicken, salmon or meatloaf. He’s also had a bunch of baked potatoes.
His chef even made him stir fry.
“You should see my freezer,” Fairley said.
To make sure he’s eating right, Fairley said he brings his breakfasts and lunches to the facility and then eats dinners at home -- all to avoid the temptation of fast food. After all, two weeks ago he said his diet was not out of control, but not where it should be.
As Fairley worked on his eating habits, he also found that the “rust” he hoped to shake off during the month-long preseason would shed itself. And each week, he felt he played a little bit better than the week before.
He understands his consistency is key this season -- not only for his personal future but for any Lions success.
“Just going out there, being around the ball more than what I would be,” Fairley said. “Each and every down making plays, being the best teammate I can be.”
If you listen to the Lions’ starting safety, though, he is not concerned.
It’s a curious statement, because Lions coach Jim Caldwell indicated after Thursday’s preseason finale that Ihedigbo had stayed behind to receive treatment. Typically, that indicates an injury of some sort that needs to be healed.
Prior to practice Monday, Caldwell declined to give an update on Ihedigbo and said to wait for the injury report, the first one being released Thursday.
Ihedigbo said he was told by the Lions’ coaching staff to remain behind in Michigan instead of heading to New York.
“I just do what I’m told and that’s what was told to me,” Ihedigbo said. “And that was the best thing for our team and that’s what I do, whatever the best thing for my team.”
Ihedigbo is expected to be a starter at strong safety opposite Glover Quin. If Ihedigbo can’t play for some reason, either rookie James Couplin or veterans Don Carey or Isa Abdul-Quddus will pick up the start.
Abdul-Quddus started for Ihedigbo against Buffalo.
As of now, Ihedigbo insists he’ll be ready to play against the Giants.
“Yeah, of course,” Ihedigbo said. “It’s Monday night.”
Each comes from a situation where he'd worked with, or been evaluated on his old team by, someone currently with Tennessee.
- WR T.J. Graham was a third-round pick of the Bills in 2012. Titans assistant wide receivers coach Kevin Patullo was quality control coach and assistant wide receivers coach in Buffalo in 2012.
- WR Kris Durham was part of the Detroit Lions in 2012. Titans wide receives coach Shawn Jefferson held the same post there that season.
- CB Brandon Harris was a second-round choice by Houston in 2011. Titans pro scouting coordinator Brian Gardner was director of pro personnel for the Texans during all three of Harris' seasons there.
- OLB Quentin Groves played in 2012 in Arizona and in 2013 in Cleveland. Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt held the same role for the Cardinals in 2012 and Titans defensive coordinator was Arizona's defensive coordinator. Horton was then Cleveland's defensive coordinator in 2013.
- K Ryan Succop was a seventh-round draft pick by Kansas City in 2009. Titans assistant special teams coach Steve Hoffman was the Chiefs special teams coach when the Chiefs brought Succop aboard.
Lions coach Jim Caldwell said practices Monday and Tuesday would be more focused on improving things they need to work on instead of game-planning, but that they might sneak some things into preparation as well.
Here's other things from Monday's open portion of practice:
- Safeties James Ihedigbo (undisclosed) and Don Carey (hamstring) sat out practice along with linebacker Kyle Van Noy (abdominal). All three were out there and Van Noy appeared to be moving OK for having had core muscle surgery less than a week ago.
- Nick Fairley took some reps with Ndamukong Suh during position drills, but so did C.J. Mosley. Mosley started the last two preseason games at tackle. Fairley is listed as first on the depth chart.
- Also at practice but not participating was wide receiver TJ Jones, who is on the PUP list.
- New numbers: Mohammed Seisay is now wearing No. 39, Jerome Couplin is No. 24 and George Johnson is No. 93.
The defensive tackle, who was demoted to the second string in the middle of training camp and remained there through the rest of the preseason, was listed on the team's unofficial depth chart as starting alongside Ndamukong Suh for next Monday night's opener against the New York Giants.
Lions coach Jim Caldwell spoke to the media before the depth chart was released and pushed any questions about depth-chart issues toward the release of the unofficial chart.
Fairley struggled with his weight throughout the preseason. He weighed less than 300 pounds in the spring but came into camp at 308. When Fairley spoke about his demotion, he said he was 315 pounds but appeared to be heavier than that.
His current weight, he said, is between 305 and 310 pounds. To keep him at his desired weight, he hired a chef last month after conversations with his agent, Brian Overstreet.
The former first-round pick said the demotion behind C.J. Mosley was attention-grabbing.
The Lions have done that, and potentially revealed some opening-game starters. This, however, remains an unofficial depth chart that the Lions media relations staff puts together, not one given out by the coaching staff.
Here are some of the notable things:
- Nick Fairley is apparently back with the starters. He is listed ahead of C.J. Mosley at defensive tackle alongside Ndamukong Suh.Fairley
- LaAdrian Waddle is listed ahead of Corey Hilliard at right tackle, so he might have won the job there.
- Jed Collins is ahead of Montell Owens at fullback, but this isn't too much of a surprise because he's been working there all camp.
- Tahir Whitehead is the team's starting SAM linebacker, backed up by Kyle Van Noy. Ashlee Palmer is listed as the backup to WILL linebacker DeAndre Levy. Expect this to change if Van Noy heads to short-term IR.
- Dan Orlovsky is the No. 2 quarterback over Kellen Moore.
- Jeremy Ross (backing up Calvin Johnson) and Kevin Ogletree (backing up Golden Tate) are listed as the No. 2 receivers. Fuller is behind Johnson and Ross and Broyles is behind Tate and Ogletree.
- Jerome Couplin is listed as the No. 2 strong safety behind James Ihedigbo. Don Carey is the No. 2 free safety and Isa Abdul-Quddus the No. 3 free safety.
He has been around winning franchises before, so he surmises he has seen what it takes to win. And he said Monday that he believes this Detroit team has similar characteristics to the winning squads he has coached before.
So how does he plan to do finish this rehabilitation of the Lions' image from 0-16 in 2008 to their current competitive-but-not-quite-enough state?
“So there is not anything that I don’t have responsibility for that doesn’t fall upon my shoulders.”
That includes the positive -- no players arrested this offseason -- and the negative -- same old penalty issues at times during the preseason. It includes making sure his players understand what is expected of them, what is allowed and what is prohibited.
On the field, that will rely on both a successful run game and stopping the run along with cutting down on the aforementioned penalties and on turnovers, which was a major issue for the Lions in 2013.
Off the field, it is a little bit different than when he was a college coach at Wake Forest and sold parents and guardians of prospects that he would be monitoring everything in their child's life during his time in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Now he’s dealing with NFL players, so he treats them as the men they are.
This has been mentioned multiple times by various players since Caldwell’s hire, and the players are appreciative of that.
“We still hold them to the same standards that anybody else would working for any other company. That they are still responsible for their own personal conduct, that we don’t hold their hand outside of this building,” Caldwell said. “I think it is our responsibility to make sure that we educate them and we do that on a daily basis. We talk about everything that comes up, every instance.
“Today we’ll discuss in detail the new policy the NFL just released in terms of domestic violence. We will talk about it in detail and that’s our responsibility to make certain that we do that and if we don’t do that, that’s my problem. That’s my fault.”
Caldwell has been straightforward with his players since the beginning of his tenure, and there’s little reason to think he won’t be when it comes to how he expects players to act on the field and off.
As far as the domestic violence policy instituted by the league -- where a first offense could be a six-game suspension without pay and a second offense could be anywhere from a year-long suspension to a lifetime ban -- Caldwell seems in favor of it.
“My thoughts are just like anything else with the NFL decides is best for the league,” Caldwell said. “That there are rules we should enforce and make certain we should enforce. We should support them wholeheartedly and make certain that our team understands them explicitly from top to bottom and even the spirit of the rules.
“So I’m certainly in favor of it and thus will express that to the team.”
Caldwell did not rule out using short-term injured reserve, where Van Noy will have to sit for the first six weeks of the season but would not be eligible to come back to play until Week 9 -- if the team decided to use that option. Caldwell said it was "certainly" still an option for Van Noy.
"A lot of it depends on him and in terms of how quickly he heals," Caldwell said. "So we'll wait and see. He just got back last night, so our guys [need to] have a chance to talk with him and look at him and get a sense of things.
"I'm sure it'll be happening today so we'll get a sense here in the next couple days."
If the Lions move him to short-term injured reserve, this would open up a spot on the 53-man roster for the team to add another player.
Van Noy had been competing for the starting strongside linebacker position during the preseason. With Van Noy out, either Tahir Whitehead or Ashlee Palmer will end up starting against the New York Giants on Monday night.
Caldwell declined to say who has won the job, but that the team has an idea which way it will go with the position.
RUNNING BACK (3):
WIDE RECEIVER (6):
Andrew Peacock is a practice squad guy here and could be a slot receiver down the road.
TIGHT END (3):
OFFENSIVE TACKLE (4):
Michael Williams, who is on the practice squad as he continues to learn the position. The Lions are hoping Lucas can turn into what Waddle became last season.
INTERIOR OFFENSIVE LINE (4):
Rodney Austin had a bad camp in his third season, and the Lions chose to look elsewhere other than Garrett Reynolds. This is a position where Detroit could make a move early on to give some more stability.
DEFENSIVE END (5):
Darryl Tapp was cut but could end up back in Detroit sooner than later. The Lions have to like their rush options here with Ansah, Johnson and Taylor, but could be stronger against the run.
DEFENSIVE TACKLE (4):
Though the Detroit Lions are among the last teams to actually kick off the season Monday night against the New York Giants, they start everything Monday, when the team returns to practice this afternoon as a 53-man roster for the first time (not including the 10 practice squad players).
There are some issues to get through, though, between this morning and a week from now, when the season actually starts.
- Who is the right tackle? This is the lone starting position not finalized yet, as LaAdrian Waddle and Corey Hilliard continue to compete at the position. Might find out as early as Monday who won the competition, but both have shown they can play. The Lions can drag this out a few more days because both players lined up next to right guard Larry Warford last season during games, but for continuity's sake, it is better to handle this earlier than later.
- What to do with Kyle Van Noy? The prevailiing thought is Van Noy is headed for injured reserve with a designation to return. This will give Van Noy time to heal from his core muscle surgery last week and won't take up a roster spot early in the season. If Van Noy heads to IR on Tuesday, don't be surprised if the Lions bring back a veteran they already had in camp or go after one recently released.
- That said, who is the SAM linebacker? Van Noy probably wasn't starting the opener yet anyway. He just wasn't ready yet. Tahir Whitehead appears to have won this competition -- after not even starting the preseason playing at SAM full-time. Now, he has emerged as one of the team's top three linebackers. It will be either him or Ashlee Palmer when the team goes into a 4-3 on Monday night.
- What about Champ Bailey? He is the big name on the free agent wire now and general manager Martin Mayhew has not shied away from going after veteran cornerbacks in the past (Rashean Mathis, Drayton Florence) if he thinks it will help his team. The question is if Bailey has anything left at age 36. He only played in five games last season. He also missed about three weeks of training camp dealing with a foot injury. Is he worth bringing in for a workout? Possibly.
And now, a look at Lions news from around the Interwebs:
- Cut-down analysis about the Lions. More analysis. Some practice squad analysis. Where we hit and miss on projections. This week's Mailbag. Notable cuts: Mikel Leshoure & Kris Durham.
- A look at what cut day is typically like from the players who live it.
- The bubble players stand out on the Detroit roster, writes Dave Birkett from the Detroit Free Press.
- Josh Katzenstein of the Detroit News writes the Lions have already had an impact on this season.
- Will Ndamukong Suh be a captain, wonders Kyle Meinke of MLive.
- The amazing, inspiring story of "Eddie from Malden," a radio caller in Boston who has not let blindness stop him, writes Billy Baker in the Boston Globe.