There was a changing of the guard in the NFC North this season, with the Vikings overtaking the Packers, but the future of the division remains in question. The following is part one of a three part wrap-up of the division.
The Lions 2015 season was considered a disappointment but it really shouldn’t have been. When they went 11-5 in 2014, they won close games at an unsustainable rate and lost their best player in free agency before this season (Suh). They finished 2015 with a 7-9 record – right around where they should’ve been.
They had to keep Jim Caldwell. It isn’t just that the Lions were one desperation heave from finishing 7-1. The Lions might have been the best team in the division over the final eight games. They finished 6-2 with a point differential of plus-54, both best in the division.
The issue was they didn’t hire their new GM (Bob Quinn from the Pats) until late and the head coach candidates were winding down. Even if they fired Caldwell and replaced him, the new coach would have a challenge filling out his staff. Keeping Caldwell was the only logical choice, but it could hurt them in 2016.
Of course, Caldwell is now a lame duck. Coaching for a GM who didn’t hire you usually doesn’t end well and the team has a ready-made replacement in Teryl Austin, who has interviewed for pretty much every head job that has become available the last two years.
The best thing Caldwell did was fire Vince Lombardi’s grandson and replace him with Jim Bob Cooter, who, somewhat surprisingly, appears to have all of his teeth. Cooter brought the best out of Matthew Stafford and they scored over 26 points per game after he was promoted.
(Editor’s Note: If you don’t know about Cooter’s arrest record, take a read.)
We’ve seen Stafford play well before, but it usually doesn’t last long. His performance is one of the biggest mysteries in the division entering next year and every year. From throw to throw, nobody knows what to expect.
But the Lions have other questions. Megatron is talking about retiring and they don’t have a really reliable running back. Their defense dropped from being one of the best in the league to one of the worst with several players in their 30s and DeAndre Levy coming off of injury.
They have plenty of talent. Stafford. Abdullah. Megatron*, Tate, Ansah. Their defense needs to add some playmakers, but — like their offense — were solid in the second half of the season.
What we don’t know is if their new GM is any good and few – if any – exPats have had success once venturing away from Belichick’s nest. Is Quinn actually committed to Caldwell? We’ll know if the Lions face adversity early in 2016.