The 2019 Detroit Lions hit their Week Five bye with only one loss on their docket. After returning from their week off, the Lions only notched one more win in the season's last three months. It didn't help that a back injury sidelined quarterback Matthew Stafford from midseason on, marking the first games he had missed since 2010. The Lions were 0-8 in his absence, including a 38-17 loss to Tampa Bay in Detroit in Week 15.
After the Lions emphatically shot down trade rumors involving their quarterback in the spring, Stafford will presumably be back under center when the Lions and Buccaneers meet again in December of the 2020 season, and that should make a big difference. The former 2009 first-overall pick in 2009, Stafford was having a fantastic season before his injury, with a 19-5 TD-INT ratio, a 106.0 passer rating that was a career best and 312.4 yards per game. Of course, the Buccaneers have a new quarterback of their own to battle Stafford, and while Tom Brady was famously a sixth-round pick, he might go first-overall in an all-time NFL draft.
Brady and Stafford will square off on either December 26 or 27 at Ford Field in Detroit, part of the NFL's Week 16 schedule, which includes some games that will be specifically set for Saturday or Sunday later in the year. Either way, this will mark the fourth straight Bucs-Lions meeting that takes place in the season's final month, and the fifth December contest between the two since 2010.
2019 Record: 3-12-1
Scoring Offense: t-18th (21.3 points per game)
Total Offense: 17th (346.8 yards per game)
Rushing Offense: 21st (103.1 yards per game)
Passing Offense: 10th (243.8 yards per game)
Scoring Defense: 26th (26.4 points per game)
Total Defense: 31st (400.4 yards per game)
Rushing Defense: 21st (115.9 yards per game)
Passing Defense: 32nd (284.4 yards per game)
Turnover Margin: t-24th (-5)
The 2019 Lions were unbalanced between the pass and the run on offense, as has been the case for Stafford's entire tenure. In the 11 years since he arrived, Detroit has finished 23rd or worse in rushing nine times, and never higher than 17th. In that same span, they've finished 12th or better in passing nine times, including five top-10 rankings. Stafford has been paired with just one 1,000-yard rusher, when Reggie Bush got to 1,006 in 2013. It didn't help when Kerryon Johnson, a second-round pick in 2018, missed half of last season as well.
And so the Lions devoted another second-round pick to their running back stable in 2020, nabbing Georgia's versatile and electric D'Andre Swift with the 35th-overall pick. Swift, who averaged 6.2 yards per carry at Georgia, is good in pass-protection and a natural pass-catcher so he should also be an asset to Stafford in the passing attack. The Lions took another running back in the fifth round, and New Mexico State's small but speedy (4.37 40) Jason Huntley could give the Lions' offense another dimension. Third-round guard Jonah Jackson could also push Oday Aboushi to start at right guard, and the Lions doubled up with another guard, Logan Sternberg, in the next round.
However, the 2020 draft arguably brought the Lions more help on defense, where they badly need to shore up a unit that gave up 26.4 points per game and huge numbers in the passing game last year. That was a step back from 2018, Matt Patricia's first season as the head coach, when Detroit quietly had the NFL's 10th-best defense, eighth-best against the run. Lions General Manager Bob Quinn was clearly willing to trade down from the number-three spot in the first round but got no solid offers and thus selected Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah, who will replace Darius Slay, who was traded to Philadelphia. The Lions also found a potentially productive edge rusher in the third round in Notre Dame's Julian Okwara. Detroit's defense only produced 28 sacks last year, and seven of those belonged to the since-released Devon Kennard.
Lions' 2020 Draft Class: CB Jeff Okudah (Round 1, 3rd overall), RB D'Andre Swift (Round 2, 35th overall), DE Julian Okwara (Round 3, 67th overall), G Jonah Jackson (Round 3, 75th overall), G Logan Sternberg (Round 4, 121st overall), WR Quintez Cephus (Round 5, 166th overall), RB Jason Huntley (Round 5, 172nd overall), DT John Penisini (Round 6, 197th overall), DE Jashon Cornell (Round 7, 235th overall)
Patricia was the defensive coordinator in New England before landing the Lions' head job in 2018, and getting better results on that side of the ball will be important in extending his tenure in Detroit after a 9-22-1 start over two seasons. To that end, the Lions raided the Patriots' roster in the offseason to add players on all three levels of the defense. Detroit landed safety Duron Harmon in a trade and signed unrestricted free agents Jamie Collins and Danny Shelton. Collins had seven sacks last year, Shelton logged two sacks and 61 tackles and Harmon picked off a pair of passes.
The Lions also snapped up cornerback Desmond Trufant after he was released by Atlanta, giving them a veteran who has played at a high level to pair with the rookie Okudah. The addition of defensive tackle Nick Williams also balances out the departures of Damon "Snacks" Harrison and A'Shawn Robinson in free agency. Former Vikings safety Jayron Kearse could also push for a starting job and brings great size to match up with opposing tight ends.
Key Veteran Additions: LB Jamie Collins (UFA), DT Danny Shelton (UFA), CB Desmond Trufant (FA), S Duron Harmon (T-NE), T Halapoulivaati Vaitai (UFA), QB Chase Daniel (UFA), WR Geronimo Allison (UFA), DT Nick Williams (UFA), S Jayron Kearse (UFA)
Notable Departures: CB Darius Slay (T-PHI), DT Damon Harrison (Released), DT A'Shawn Robinson (UFA), T Ricky Wagner (Released), G Graham Glasgow (UFA), LB Devon Kennard (Released), CB Rashaan Melvin
The Lions have a very productive trio of receivers with complementary skill sets in Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones and Danny Amendola. Golladay, in particular, emerged as a big-play star in his third year and made his first Pro Bowl appearance, while Amendola remains one of the league's most productive slot receivers. Amendola is another former Patriot on the Lions' roster, as are defensive end Trey Flowers, cornerback Justin Coleman and several other depth players on the roster.
The Lions only additions at receiver were more depth moves, with former Packer Geronimo Allison coming over via free agency and the fifth round of the draft yielding Wisconsin's big and productive Quintez Cephus. There's a significant move up front, however, as the team released right tackle Ricky Wagner and replaced him with former Eagle Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who was signed to a big-ticket contract in free agency. The Lions also added veteran reserve quarterback Chase Daniel after seeing their offense make a steep decline after Stafford went down a year ago.
The Buccaneers and Lions have a lengthy series history thanks to the quarter-century Tampa Bay spent in the NFC Central. This will also mark the seventh time in the last 11 years that the Bucs and Lions will square off. Overall, Detroit leads the series, 31-27. The Bucs' 27 wins in that shared history are their most against any opponent.