Detroit Lions: 2012 preview

Detroit Lions players gather around quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) during the first offensive series against the Buffalo Bills in NFL preseason action at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan, on Thursday, August 30, 2012. (Julian H. Gonzalez/Detroit Free Press/MCT)

The NFL’s regular season kicks off in less than a week, and already the number one question in many people’s minds is, “Can the Detroit Lions stay healthy, and how do they stack up against other teams?”

Running back Mikel Leshoure looked great in the team’s final preseason game Aug. 30 against the Buffalo Bills, but he’s going to miss the first two games of the season because of a suspension stemming from his off-field issues this past offseason.

Another key player for the Lions, who might end up missing some playing time from some off-field legal issues, is defensive tackle Nick Fairley. Fairley was arrested twice during the offseason, once for possession of marijuana back in April and again in June for driving under the influence and eluding police. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has not announced a suspension for Fairley as of print date, but he may miss four to six games.

Back on the injury front, running back Jahvid Best is still on the Physically Unable to Perfom list while recovering from a concussion he suffered last year. Best will be inactive on the roster for at least the first six games of the season. When he is activated from the PUP, there is a three-week time period where he will be allowed to practice, and then another three-week period in which the team will have to decide to add him to the active roster or shut him down for the year.

Two scenarios could possibly play out for the Lions regarding Best. The first is that he is cleared to come off the PUP in week six and continues on to play in week ten. The team will limit his carries, thus making him a practical non-factor on the field. The other situation is that Best makes it to the practice field in week six (after missing over a full year of football) and the team makes the decision to shut him down and wait until training camp to really let him loose. Either way, Best is not a factor this year.

Elsewhere in the NFC North, the Green Bay Packers announced that they were putting all their chips behind second-year quarterback Graham Harrell as the lone backup to 2011 Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers, despite calls from fans to add a veteran quarterback to the mix as a proven backup. Rodgers has only missed two starts since being given the starting job over Brett Favre in 2008. Both times, quarterback Matt Flynn started, but Flynn is now the backup quarterback in Seattle.

Meanwhile, the Minnesota Vikings’ Pro-Bowl running back Adrian Peterson has been slowly making his way back from surgery to fix tears in both his ACL and MCL. Head coach Leslie Frazier made news earlier in the preseason by allegedly telling one of the team’s defensive players during training camp that anyone who touched Peterson during practice would immediately be cut. In addition, second-year quarterback Christian Ponder was officially named the starter, which came as no surprise to most. The real surprise was that the team also announced the release of veteran backup Sage Rosenfels. Rosenfels spent time as the backup with the Houston Texans and with the New York Giants before coming to Minneapolis, but the Vikings are making a clear statement that they want to go younger at the quarterback position.

The Chicago Bears haven’t made any overly significant moves this offseason. The only real improvement they made was signing a few players to help wide receiver Devin Hester and the overall special teams picture.

As far as how the NFC North might be played out this year: The Packers will take first place (12-4/11-5, NFC Champs) and the wild card will be the Lions (10-6/9-7 eliminated in the first round of the playoffs).

The Bears and the Vikings will battle it out for the final two spots and both will likely have an 8-8 record at best. Lack of depth for both teams will be the determining factor in their lack of success this year. In the end, the Bears could finish third with an 8-8 record and the Vikings will round out the division with a 6-10 record. It should be noted that the Bears potentially have the basic pieces in place to make a playoff run if the Lions falter somewhere before the season is over, but it seems highly unlikely.

Back in May, three former Eastern Michigan University Eagles were invited to mini-camps in the NFL. Bridger Buche from the San Diego Chargers, Brad Ohrman from the Detroit Lions and Willie Williams from the Philadelphia Eagles all attended camps this year. Buche later signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers, where former Eagle quarterback Charlie Batch is currently the backup to Ben Roethlisburger. Buche was cut from the Steelers and later signed with the Minnesota Vikings.

Unfortunately, Buche did not make the Vikings 53-man roster, so he is currently a free agent. Ohrman was cut by the Lions and Williams failed to make the roster in Philadelphia. That leaves Charlie Batch (QB-PIT), Kevin Walter (WR-HOU), Jason Jones (DE-SEA) and T.J. Lang (OG-GB) as the only Eagle alumni on active rosters in the NFL right now. Lang started all 16 games last year for the Packers.

The Detroit Lions play their first game of the regular season Sunday, Sept. 9 at Ford Field against the St. Louis Rams. Kickoff is at 1 p.m.

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