Lions' Super Bowl hopes are stuck in the middle -- as usual

The Lions can depend on Darius Slay (and a few others), but they'll need to make some additions to become a contender in 2018. Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

Here’s a look at the Super Bowl prospects of the Detroit Lions, who finished the season 9-7 and fired their coach, Jim Caldwell. The tiers consist of: Realistic Super Bowl expectations; Should contend, but there are question marks; Middle of the pack; Lots of work to do and Nowhere close.

Westgate odds of winning Super Bowl LIII: 60-1

Middle of the pack: The Lions have strong pieces in place to perhaps be a contender in 2018. They have their franchise quarterback, Matthew Stafford, locked up for the future and two receivers who are comfortable with him in Marvin Jones and Golden Tate. Defensively, the Lions have a lockdown cornerback (Darius Slay) and one of the most perennially underrated players in the league in safety Glover Quin. There’s also other building blocks on defense (linebacker Jarrad Davis, safety Quandre Diggs) and on offense (left tackle Taylor Decker, right tackle Rick Wagner).

So why are the Lions in the middle of the pack instead of contenders? There are a few reasons. It starts with the change in leadership. While Matt Patricia was the coaching candidate the Lions coveted throughout the process, he’s still a first-time head coach at any level so it’s not clear how he’s going to adjust. That should make the odds a little greater than they might otherwise be. Add in the division the Lions are in, with the Packers and Vikings, and it’ll be a difficult road to the playoffs, let alone a first-ever Super Bowl appearance.

Then there’s the roster. Detroit needs to fix its pass rush and run game, and it’s not entirely clear how that’s going to happen. The Lions have to add starting-caliber (or better) players at pass rusher, on the interior of the defensive line and at running back. They also might need an interior offensive lineman and possibly a starting cornerback opposite Slay depending what happens with pending free agents.

This is a team that is in the middle of its window with the current roster, led by Stafford, Tate, Jones and Slay who are all in the prime of their careers. And Quin, while a little older, is still playing at an extremely high level.

If general manager Bob Quinn is able to remedy Detroit’s front seven and run-game issues (along with some better protection for Stafford that could come with bolstering the run game), then the Lions should be more along the lines of contenders. Until he starts making some moves, though, Detroit is firmly in the middle of the NFL -- a place the franchise has resided for most of the past seven seasons.