1. How do Lions fans feel about Matt Stafford? Do they think drafting him in 2009 was the right decision? What about his extension?
There's no question that drafting him was the right decision, but there is some frustration over his inconsistent nature. This year, a lot of that frustration has to do with the nature of the Lions' new offense as much as anything, but it seems clear at this point that Stafford simply isn't on the same level as guys like Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. The hope was that he would get at least close to that point by now, especially with the contract extension he received (that was something the Lions really had to do for salary cap purposes as much as anything), but he's just not consistent enough to be in the same conversation as those guys.
2. The Lions' success this season seems to be based mostly on their defensive play. What makes their defense so good?
It all starts up front. The defensive line has been outstanding, and all of the resources the Lions have been putting into it are finally paying off. Ndamukong Suh is extremely disruptive, even when he's drawing constant double-teams, and Nick Fairley (when healthy) and C.J. Mosley have been good inside as well. What's more, Ziggy Ansah is developing into a top-tier pass rusher, and other defensive ends have really stepped it up as well.
The defense has also benefited from DeAndre Levy's strong play at linebacker and a secondary that is much improved from last season. Part of that improvement likely stems from defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, who previously served as the Baltimore Ravens' defensive backs coach. Austin is the one behind this stout defense, and he has done an outstanding job of getting the most out of the players on that side of the ball.
3. Will Ndamukong Suh be a Detroit Lion next season? Why (not)?
This is a tough question. On the one hand, if Suh hits the open market as everybody expects, will the Lions really be able to match the highest bid that comes his way? And if reports about Suh wanting to play in New York or somewhere else are true, will they be able to offer enough to persuade him to stay? Given how poorly negotiations have gone to this point, it does sort of seem like he's headed out the door.
The flip side is that we've seen this year just how valuable Suh is now that he's a part of such a great defense. The defense has really been built around him, and there is a fear that taking him out of the mix would result in the Lions taking a few major steps back as a defense. Even if they re-sign Nick Fairley and draft a defensive tackle, you're not going to be able to match what Suh brings to the table, especially from a consistency standpoint. In that sense, the Lions may feel that paying Suh whatever he wants and worrying about the cap situation later is the way to go. The Lions have been dealing with limited cap room for years now and have generally made it work, and all expectations are that the cap will go up quite a bit in future years anyway.
Perhaps this is an overly optimistic view, but if I had to guess, I'd go with the Lions re-signing Suh shortly after the start of free agency. I think he will explore his other options, but I don't necessarily believe another team will be willing to give him the kind of contract he is after. The Lions have seen firsthand how valuable he is, and I think they're aware that losing him would do much more harm than good regardless of the ramifications on the salary cap.
4. Are the Lions going to make the playoffs? And if so, how much damage are they going to do once they get there?
Even though I'm still a bit skeptical that the Lions will actually get the job done by winning their next three games (vs. Bucs, vs. Vikings, at Bears), I do think this team is headed to the postseason. On paper, they should have at least 11 wins going into their Week 17 showdown with the Packers, and that game could decide the NFC North champion and who gets a first-round bye.
I think the Lions' ability to do damage in the playoffs -- in other words, actually win a playoff game for only the second time since 1957 -- will really come down to if they are able to get a home game and who they end up being matched up with. Even so, I do think this team is built in a way that they could get hot at the right time and really make a prolonged run in the postseason. They have an offense that is potentially dangerous, and their defense should keep them in every game. All they need is to catch fire and have some luck go their way to do a lot of damage in the playoffs.
5. Care to predict the game?
I probably said the same exact thing a year ago when the Lions were in a similar situation, but they should beat the Bucs on Sunday. That doesn't mean they will, of course, but I expect them to win by a score of 24-13 or something like that. I expect the Bucs to keep it fairly close until the very end, but the Lions just have too much talent and too much riding on this game to fall at home. That mindset certainly hasn't stopped them from disappointing us before, but I'm hoping the Lions have learned from their past mistakes and won't let a repeat of 2013 happen.
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