Detroit Lions season preview: Can Abdullah emerge?

Around The NFL's season preview goes to the NFC North.

Change we can believe in

The Lions upgraded in a major way when they drafted Ameer Abdullah to replace a declining Reggie Bush. After stealing the show in training camp, Abdullah drew comparisons to Hall of Famer Barry Sanders in a scintillating preseason debut. The Senior Bowl MVP doesn't have Sanders' extra gear, but is explosive to and through the hole. With excellent receiving ability and playmaking chops in space, Abdullah is also a perfect fit for this offense. He's on the short list of Offensive Rookie of the Year favorites.

Biggest concern

Matthew Stafford boasts a wildly impressive 156.3 passer rating on 25 preseason attempts, which suggests the Lions could have one of the most surprising offenses in the league if he gains some measure of consistency this season.

That's the concern. It has now been more than three years since Stafford resembled a future superstar with 41 touchdowns and more than 5,000 passing yards in the 2011 season. Since then, he has completed less than 60 percent of his passes and turned the ball over at inopportune moments. Missing too many throws, Stafford finished just 17th in Gregg Rosenthal's 2014 QB Index. For a player of his obvious talent level, that's embarrassingly mediocre.

If the Lions are going to post a winning record in back-to-back seasons for the first time in 20 years, Stafford has to take full advantage of his surrounding talent.

Training camp surprise

A defense which finished second only to Seattle's last season was expected to suffer a severe dropoff after losing Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley on the interior. Even with Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and second-year linebacker Kyle Van Noy sidelined, the defense has shined this month. Just ask Robert Griffin III, who lost his job after being relentlessly swarmed by Detroit's front seven two weeks ago.

Led by DeAndre Levy and Tahir Whitehead, the Lions' linebackers are better than advertised. Young defensive tackles Caraun Reid and Tyrunn Walker have impressed with Ngata resting. This unit might not be quite as dominant as last year's, but it should remain one of the NFC's stingiest.

What we'll be saying in February

Buoyed by the emergence of Abdullah and tight end Eric Ebron alongside playmaking wideouts Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate, the Lions reached the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time since 1995. Although they advanced a round further this year, they were ultimately done in by Stafford's inability to outplay the best quarterbacks in the conference.

Predicted finish: Second place in NFC North, No. 4 in NFC, No. 8 overall in Around The NFL's Power Poll.

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