When was the last time the NFC North had four great quarterbacks? I don't think it has ever happened. Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers are proven veterans. Jay Cutler had a down year but should show at least some improvement this season. That brings us to the Detroit Lions and their signal caller, Matthew Stafford. With the curse of Bobby Layne ending and the reign of dysfunction that Matt Millen wrought, things finally seemed to go the Lions way. Stafford didn't lead the Lions to the playoffs but there was improvement shown on offense. There is always the habit of comparing quarterbacks taken in the first round of the draft with each other. But comparing Stafford to Sanchez after the season would be taken out of context. Overall, the Jets had a superior supporting cast on offense and defense, who really carried the team further into the playoffs. For us as fantasy owners, Matthew Stafford is a great prospect and the Lions are improving as a team.
The first reason we can have for optimism in regards to Stafford is that the Lions looked to continue to improve their offense over the off-season. They added an awesome rookie running back in Jahvid Best. He will not only draw attention from the passing game but also provide an excellent receiving threat out of the backfield. Kevin Smith caught 41 passes in only 13 games last year. Look for Stafford to complete at least that many to Best this season, if not more. They upgraded their starter opposite Calvin Johnson at wide receiver, signing Nate Burleson. He isn't the going to set the league on fire but certainly is a better option for Stafford than Bryant Johnson or Dennis Northcutt. As long as Burleson stays healthy, Stafford should be able to build a strong connection with him. Another player the Lions added was Tony Scheffler through a trade. He has been a good tight end, since entering the NFL. Detroit will be running for the most part a two TE offense and so Scheffler will get frequent playing time. If Stafford and him develop a relationship on the field, he'll be another weapon in the arsenal.
It's easy to forget that Stafford only started 10 games last year. He was out for two games with a knee injury and four games with a shoulder injury. In those 10 games, he scored 15 total touchdowns (13 passing and 2 rushing). In every game, Stafford scored at least one touchdown. Now if he is able to improve upon those numbers, we should expect a really strong season. The Lions have a lot of faith in Stafford to continue to develop and the coaching staff was not reluctant to rely on his arm. They may strive to balance things on offense more but I can still see the Lions defense putting them in a hole at times. Which would mean that Stafford would have to bring them back.
One last reason to feel positive about Stafford's prospects this season is the end of the Lions schedule. They must have someone on the inside looking out for them because they are set for a comfortable finish. Not in the way you may be thinking though. Over the last seven games of the season, they either play indoors or in Florida. While other teams will be relying more on their running game while weather conditions deteriorate, Stafford and the Lions will be able to keep passing the ball.
If Stafford is available in your draft or league, he would make a fine starter and a great backup. As the season progresses it would not be a surprise to see him become an every week fantasy starter. Especially as the offense continues to gel and Stafford's relationship with Calvin Johnson develops.
Projection: 330-567, 3500 yards, 218.8/game, 23 TD, 27 INT, 100 rush yards, 2 rush TD