Tough early schedule could lead to mediocre Detroit Lions 2017 season

Since the Detroit Lions' schedule came out in April, a lot has happened. The Lions found a new middle linebacker (rookie Jarrad Davis), lost their starting left tackle (Taylor Decker) and have had many injury issues on the defensive line.

Those three things, in particular, should give a somewhat better picture of what to expect from Detroit in 2017. In April, I predicted the Lions would finish the season 9-7 -- likely putting them close to (but not in) the playoffs. Now? Well, take a read and find out.

Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 10 vs. Arizona Cardinals, 1 p.m. ET

When Carson Palmer wasn’t pressured last season, he completed 65.9 percent of his passes for 23 touchdowns and eight interceptions. When he was, he completed just 44.1 percent of his passes. Not sold on the Lions' pass rush, but the Lions’ ball-control offense with Ameer Abdullah, Theo Riddick and short passes should keep the Cardinals' offense off the field enough for the win. Record: 1-0

Week 2: Monday, Sept. 18 at New York Giants, 8:30 p.m. ET

The lack of a pass rush is going to be a problem here. While the Lions have a good secondary -- both Darius Slay and Nevin Lawson can handle single coverage -- Eli Manning will have way too much time, and that will be bad for Detroit on a national stage. Record: 1-1

Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 24 vs. Atlanta Falcons, 1 p.m. ET

I said in April that a short week after facing a physical team is a nightmare. That hasn’t changed. Matt Ryan, Julio Jones & Co. could win this one in a big way. Record: 1-2

Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 1 at Minnesota Vikings, 1 p.m. ET

The Vikings' offense is not that impressive to me and short passes from Sam Bradford will likely be the way to go again. But Minnesota’s defense has typically hit Matthew Stafford hard, sacking him 15 times the past three years. He has completed 61.1 percent of his passes against Minnesota in that span, but the Vikings’ defense is a little too good this time with questionable play on the left side of the Lions' offensive line. Record: 1-3

Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 8 vs. Carolina Panthers, 1 p.m. ET

Christian McCaffrey is going to be a problem, but the Lions have a cornerback in Darius Slay to handle Kelvin Benjamin. The Lions' ability to better defend tight ends could limit Greg Olsen. If that happens, this should be a Lions win needed to keep their season alive. Record: 2-3

Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 15 at New Orleans Saints, 1 p.m. ET

Adrian Peterson is with a new team and has had success against the Lions in the past, including averaging 4.83 yards per carry against Detroit in 2015. But the Saints' defense is still suspect and the Lions are comfortable at the Superdome, having won there each of the past two seasons. Make it three in a row. Record: 3-3

Week 7: Bye

Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 29 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers, 8:30 p.m. ET

Ben Roethlisberger’s home/road splits have been a favorite stat of the Fantasy Focus Football podcast. Roethlisberger is 8-6 on the road over the past two seasons, but here are the important numbers: 14 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. In other words, he’s vulnerable on the road. If the Lions can find any pass rush by this point, they should be able to take advantage of that and have enough offense to keep pace with road Roethlisberger. Record: 4-3

Week 9: Monday, Nov. 6 at Green Bay Packers, 8:30 p.m. ET

Green Bay still has Aaron Rodgers. It still has Jordy Nelson, still has a hold over the Lions, too. In a prime-time game in which it’s going to be cold, that’s a bad atmosphere for the Lions. Add in Stafford’s career road record at night -- 1-6, with his only win coming in New Orleans in 2015 -- and it doesn’t bode well for the Lions. Record: 4-4

Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 12 vs. Cleveland Browns, 1 p.m. ET

The Lions are the better team. They need to win to stay in the playoff picture. It’ll be a short week after playing two physical teams beforehand, but the Browns are still the worse team by far. Record: 5-4

Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 19 at Chicago Bears, 1 p.m. ET

Chicago might be dealing with a quarterback controversy by this point in the season, and if the starting quarterback is Mitchell Trubisky, defensive coordinator Teryl Austin should have fun confusing him with different fronts. Of course, the pass-rush issue could be a problem, but the secondary should be able to handle things here. Record: 6-4

Week 12: Thursday, Nov. 23 vs. Minnesota Vikings, 12:30 p.m. ET

The Lions used to struggle on Thanksgiving Day. Now? They have won four straight and have had some of their best performances of recent seasons on Thanksgiving, including defensively against Green Bay in 2013 (holding the Packers' offense to 126 yards) and offensively against Philadelphia in 2015 (45 points). The Lions beat the Vikings last season in the final two minutes of the game. It shouldn’t be as close this time. Record: 7-4

Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 3 at Baltimore Ravens, 1 p.m. ET

It’s tough to make a call based on preseason injuries in a Week 13 game, but seven Ravens players are already out for the season, including tight ends Dennis Pitta and Crockett Gillmore, guard Alex Lewis and cornerback Tavon Young. The Ravens' defense, though, could be one of the best in the league. And John Harbaugh, more than any other coach in the league, will understand what both Jim Caldwell and Austin might try to do since he employed both of them before they came to Detroit. It’ll be a close game, but the Ravens will have enough to pull it out. Record: 7-5

Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 10 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1 p.m. ET

Tampa Bay's offense has more potential than most, with Jameis Winston, Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard. The defense has a bunch of talent, too. A warm environment should be a good respite for the Lions on the road late in the season, but the Buccaneers might have too much offense for Detroit to keep pace. Record: 7-6

Week 15: Saturday, Dec. 16 vs. Chicago Bears, 4:30 p.m. ET

The Bears should be in full rebuild mode at this point. It would not be surprising at all to see Trubisky at quarterback. With a nationally televised game on a Saturday afternoon, home-field advantage should be the difference here. So, too, should the Lions' higher level of talent on the field. Record: 8-6

Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 24 at Cincinnati Bengals, 1 p.m. ET

Cincinnati’s offense could be sneaky-good this year if Joe Mixon ends up being a reliable rookie running back. The receiver corps is deep with A.J. Green, Brandon LaFell, speedster John Ross and Tyler Boyd. If tight end Tyler Eifert is healthy, that might be too many options for the Lions to cover -- especially if the pass rush doesn't show up this season. Record: 8-7

Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 31 vs. Green Bay Packers, 1 p.m. ET

The Lions might be in the playoff hunt here. They might also have lost their playoff hopes with losses to Tampa Bay and Cincinnati. Either way, Rodgers and the Packers are a tough out. He’s 6-2 against the Lions at Ford Field and has completed less than 60 percent of his passes against them just once, in 2014. If Green Bay has everything locked up by this point, the Lions might have a shot. But if the Packers need this game, Rodgers will beat the Lions and end any playoff hopes Detroit has. Record: 8-8.