2018 didn’t go quite as planned for the Detroit Lions or Arizona Cardinals.
The Lions went 6-10 in head coach Matt Patricia’s first year in the Motor City. The Cardinals went 3-13 under first-year head coach Steve Wilks and landed the first overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. That led to the firing of Wilks and the hiring of Kliff Kingsbury from Texas Tech.
Many around the league found it a head scratching move as his record in the NCAA was a mediocre 35-40 in five years at the helm in Lubbock. But he is bringing his Air Raid offense to the NFL and he has some special weapons at his disposal.
One of those weapons is the first overall pick of the 2019 draft, quarterback Kyler Murray out of Oklahoma. Murray, the 2018 Heisman Trophy winner, is a dynamic athlete who can hurt defenses with his arms and legs. Last year with the Sooners, he threw for 4,361 yards and 42 touchdowns while also rushing for 1,001 yards and 12 scores.
He’ll have some playmakers at the receiver position to help ease him into life in the NFL. Larry Fitzgerald, entering his 16th season in the league, will most likely be his go-to target. Fitzgerald is coming off his lowest receiving yard total of his career (734) but had six touchdowns. He will also have second-year man Christian Kirk to throw to. Kirk put up 590 yards and three TDs in 12 games during his rookie campaign.
Murray will also have one of the best running backs in the league in the backfield with him. David Johnson, a former Pro Bowler, rushed for 940 yards and seven TDs in 2018. He is also a threat in the receiving game as he caught 50 passes for 446 yards and three scores.
Kingsbury and Murray will look to change the fortunes of the Cardinals’ offense, as they were the lowest scoring team in the NFL last season with 14.1 points per game.
As for the Lions, they are also led by a first overall pick. Matthew Stafford, the first overall pick in the 2009 draft, is looking to shake off one of the worst years of his career. He threw for 3,777 yards in 2018, which was his lowest total since 2010, when he played in only three games. Stafford also only threw for 21 touchdowns, which was his lowest since 2012.
He’ll lead an offense under new offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. Bevell, the former OC of the Seattle Seahawks and Minnesota Vikings, will look to balance out the Lions’ generally pass-happy offense to a more balanced attack.
This could bode well for running back Kerryon Johnson.
Johnson, the second-year back out of Auburn, had a promising rookie season derailed by injuries. In 10 games last year, he rushed for 641 yards and three TDs. He also averaged an impressive 5.4 yards per carry.
But Stafford still has weapons at the receiver and tight end position that will be utilized in Bevell’s offense as well.
Kenny Golladay broke out in his second NFL season with 1,063 yards and five touchdowns. His receiving total ranked 17th in league. Marvin Jones was also productive, albeit in nine games, with 508 yards and five scores.
The tight end position is revamped for Detroit heading into the 2019 season. They signed Jesse James in the offseason and drafted T.J. Hockenson out of Iowa with the 8th overall pick in the draft.
As for the defensive side of the ball, this is a tale of two complete opposites.
For all of their struggles last year, the Lions could hang their hat on their defense. They had the 10th ranked defense overall and were eighth against the pass. They are led by one of the best cornerbacks in the league in Darius Slay and one of the best defensive tackles in Damon Harrison.
The Cardinals, on the other hand, were near the bottom of most defensive categories last season. They were 25th in points allowed per contest and dead last against the run. They are hoping the addition of veteran linebacker Terrell Suggs can help on these fronts.
But they were very good versus the pass as they were ranked fourth in the league.
Anyway, now onto the prediction. I think this is a game the Lions should, and need to, win for Patricia. They have the more experienced, and I believe more talented, team. Stafford is entering his 11th season and should be able to outduel a rookie QB.
The Lions defense is also much better than Arizona’s.
But injuries could play a factor in this game. LB Jarrad Davis is doubtful for Detroit with a leg injury and C Frank Ragnow is questionable with a knee injury.
Even if both of those players miss Sunday’s contest, I believe the Lions will come away victorious. I think it will be a tightly contested and low scoring opener. Matt Patricia will start off his second year in the NFL 1-0 while Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray will begin their NFL careers 0-1.
Detroit 24, Arizona 20.
All stats are courtesy of ESPN.com and Pro-Football-Reference.com.