- Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer
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At the start of every year, no matter the beat I’ve covered, I’ve always thrown out 10 things for the next calendar year that are likely to be wrong, but are guesses and predictions nonetheless.
If there’s something I’ve learned, it is incredibly tough to predict the future, so understand this is just an exercise mostly in fun and don’t take it too seriously (unless I get things right, of course, then I’ll look like a genius).
So with that, Happy New Year and here are 10 things that could happen (but probably won’t) in 2014.
1. The Lions will have a coach in place in three weeks or less. Yes, this isn’t that bold, but Detroit’s brain trust seems to be moving quickly with identifying and interviewing candidates. Three of those people have already surfaced and many more probably will in the next few days, especially since a lot of those candidates are likely coaching this weekend. And the coach the Lions eventually hire ends up being ... Lovie Smith. (Remember, this is just a likely-to-be-wrong guess.)
2. The Lions bring back Brandon Pettigrew. The value for the tight end is just too high, despite the sometimes unfortunately-timed drops. He has become a comfortable target for quarterback Matthew Stafford and also is critical to protecting both Stafford and the run game. Of course, the offensive style of the new head coach and/or offensive coordinator plays into this decision as well, but the rest of the position is either inexperienced or one-dimensional or both.
3. Dominic Raiola returns, too. The veteran center had the best season of his career in 2013, indicated a desire to return in 2014 and would prefer to come back to Detroit, where he has spent his entire career. While the Lions will draft a center to eventually replace the 35-year-old, they will have him around for a year or two to mentor that replacement first.
4. In the 2014 NFL draft, the Lions will go wide receiver in the first round and cornerback in the second round, solidifying two needs. It’s too early to say who the Lions will pick because declarations of underclassmen have not even come out yet, but if Sammy Watkins is available at No. 10, it would not be surprising to see him end up in Detroit.
5. The Lions are not big players in free agency. With so much money tied up in its core players who are locked up for the next few years -- including last year’s big free agent signings of Reggie Bush and Glover Quin -- Detroit doesn’t make nearly as big a splash this season in the free-agent market. The team will bring in a couple of mid-level players who will end up being contributors in the fall, but for the most part, the same roster that was around in 2013 will be with Detroit in 2014. Part of this reason is cap space, which leads to...
6. At least one veteran gets surprisingly cut. Nate Burleson has already said he is willing to restructure his deal to stay with the team and open up some cap space. But there’s a chance other players won’t be as willing to do that. Beyond Burleson, Louis Delmas has a $6.5 million cap number on the final year of his deal, Chris Houston has a $4.8 million cap number and guard Leroy Harris, who barely played this season, carries a $2.062 million cap number.
7. Ndamukong Suh does not sign an extension. Suh enters the final year of his deal and, like Matthew Stafford last season and Calvin Johnson before him, there is a decision that needs to be made with the defensive tackle. Suh’s cap number is a massive $21.412 million in 2014, 17.31 percent of the Lions' total -- more than any other signed Lions player for 2014. Considering how much money the Lions have tied up in Stafford and Johnson, it is tough to see Detroit being able to offer a massive deal to Suh right now, so he might play out the final year of his deal and go from there. What happens here may be dependent on the new coaching staff.
8. Calvin Johnson goes over 1,400 yards again. His knee healthy after an offseason of recuperation, the best receiver in the NFL once again asserts his dominance and leads the league in receiving, going over 1,400 yards for the fourth straight season.
9. DeAndre Levy is a Pro Bowler. His name got out there this season and next season, Levy takes the next step to becoming enough of a household name (because that’s what a lot of Pro Bowl voting is) to become an actual Pro Bowler and also an NFL All-Pro. The All-Pro designation ends up being the bigger honor.
10. The Lions finish next season 9-7. This might not sound like a lot of excitement, but without knowing who the coach is going to be or anything else at this moment, that feels like a pretty optimistic prediction. But with the talent pieces there for the most part, the Lions just need a coach who can be successful enough to actually get the pieces to all smartly work together.