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PFT preseason power rankings No. 15: Detroit Lions

Wild Card Round - Detroit Lions v Seattle Seahawks

SEATTLE, WA - JANUARY 07: Matthew Stafford #9 of the Detroit Lions escapes pressure during the first half against the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Wild Card game at CenturyLink Field on January 7, 2017 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

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The Lions are coming off a surprise playoff season, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a lot of optimism heading into 2017.

In fact, the optimism that abounded in Detroit mostly came to a halt over the end of last season, when the Lions lost their last three regular-season games to back into the playoffs and then got stomped by the Seahawks in the wild card round. Because of that, there’s not much playoff buzz around the Lions this year.

So can the Lions be a surprise playoff team for the second year in a row? Let’s have a look.

Biggest positive change: Detroit’s defense struggled all season, but the Lions think they got a lot better on draft day. First-round linebacker Jarrad Davis should start on Day One, second-round cornerback Teez Tabor will get plenty of playing time as a rookie, and fourth-round linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin, fifth-round defensive back Jamal Agnew and sixth-round defensive tackle Jeremiah Ledbetter can all provide depth. Mere regression to the mean suggests the Lions’ defense should be quite a bit better, and the infusion of young talent looks like a real positive.

Biggest negative change: The loss of starting left tackle Taylor Decker for at least the first month of the season, and possibly much more, was a huge blow. The Lions made Decker their first-round pick last year with the thought that he’d protect Matthew Stafford’s blind side for years to come. Now they may have to rely on a castoff like ex-Ram Greg Robinson or ex-Bill Cyrus Kouandjio. On the right side of the line, the Lions think they got better by signing tackle Ricky Wagner and guard T.J. Lang to replace the departed Riley Reiff and Larry Warford. But at least until Decker returns from his shoulder injury, it’s hard to see how the Lions can feel confident in their offensive line this season.

We’d like to crack a beer with . . . Matthew Stafford, to find out where the quarterback really thinks his future lies. Stafford is heading into the final season of his contract, and so far it doesn’t appear that he and the team are all that close on a new deal. Is Stafford committed to the Lions for the long haul? Or would he like to shop his services to the highest bidder in March?

Coaching thermometer: Jim Caldwell’s seat is a lot hotter than you’d expect for a guy who’s made the playoffs two of his first three seasons. He’s heading into the final season of his contract, and his boss, G.M. Bob Quinn, may want to bring in his own coach if Caldwell can’t get to the playoffs for the third time.

How they could prove us wrong: If the Lions’ offensive line can keep Stafford upright and the young players on defense make an immediate impact, it’s easy to see them being better than we’re expecting. If not, it’s easy to see them being worse.