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2005 preview: Lions

NFC North predictions
1. Minnesota
2. Green Bay
3. Detroit
4. Chicago
Detroit Lions
Head coach: Steve Mariucci, third season
2004 record: 6-10
2004 rankings: Offense, 24th (293.3 yards/game); Defense, 22nd (337.6 yards/game)
2005 strength of schedule: 16th
From SportingNews.com: NFC North overview

Despite adding the likes of wide receiver Roy Williams and running back Kevin Jones in 2004, Detroit's offense sputtered under the weight of injuries and the inconsistency of quarterback Joey Harrington. Star wideout Charles Rogers had his season end early for the second straight year with a broken collarbone, and the receiving corps was a major disappointment beyond Williams.

Coach Steve Mariucci had his play calling questioned at various times during the season, particularly a five-game losing streak in the middle of the schedule when Detroit averaged a tepid 15.2 points per game. The slide ultimately ruined a 4-2 start and dragged the Lions to their fourth straight losing season.

OFFENSE

The skill positions are absolutely loaded, as Detroit returns Williams and Jones after stellar rookie seasons. Jones was spectacular down the stretch, running for more yardage than any back in the league over the season's final eight games.

Former No. 2 overall pick Charles Rogers returns from injury and is said to be looking stronger and faster than ever. The foursome of rookie receiver Mike Williams, Rogers, Williams and Kevin Johnson has the potential to become the NFL's best set of wideouts by the end of the season. Tight end Marcus Pollard was a quality addition, too.

Of course, Harrington must finally blossom if the offense is to live up to its potential. Though his numbers from last season look solid – 3,047 passing yards, 19 touchdowns and 12 interceptions – his average passing (56-percent completion rate and 6.2 yards per attempt) didn't translate into enough touchdowns.

With the addition of guard Rick DeMulling, the offensive line is solid, so Harrington has little reason to fail. If he can't flourish under new offensive coordinator Ted Tollner, backup Jeff Garcia (who has played under Tollner before) will be waiting in the wings.

DEFENSE

Defensive tackles Shaun Rogers and Dan Wilkinson anchor the middle of a defensive line that should get better. Second-round draft pick Shaun Cody will push hard to get into the rotation at both tackle and end.

If Boss Bailey's knee holds up, the linebacking corps could be exceptional. But if James Davis starts on the weak side, the Lions may not have a place for Teddy Lehman – unless he can supplant the steady Earl Holmes in the middle. Considering Detroit's past lack of depth, it's a good problem to have.

Despite signing R.W. McQuarters, Detroit is still taking a hard look at Ty Law. Even without Law, the secondary has a glut of talent and depth.

Cornerback Dre' Bly has been a Pro Bowl player since signing as a free agent two years ago, but fellow corner Fernando Bryant had a disappointing season last year. That may be why Detroit is taking such a hard look at Law with the idea that Bryant could move to the nickel spot. Then again, the Lions may want to use Law at free safety, next to offseason pickup Kenoy Kennedy.

With the drafting of cornerback Stanley Wilson, Andre' Goodman may be a training camp cut.

SPECIAL TEAMS

If the Lions can get a long-term deal worked out with Eddie Drummond – and then keep him healthy – they will have one of the best returners in the game. Longtime kicker Jason Hanson remains dependable, and punter Nick Harris was second best in the NFL last season at landing punts inside the opposing 20-yard line.

Coach Chuck Priefer typically gets good production out of all of his special teams.

PREDICTION

The Lions will finish 8-8 and third in the NFC North.