ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The Detroit Lions aren't anyone's pick to win the Super Bowl this year. Not coming off a season in which they won nine games and fired their head coach, and not playing in a division against teams that have arguably the best quarterback (Green Bay Packers) and defense (the Minnesota Vikings) in football.
But optimism is high in Detroit as the Lions get ready to open the Matt Patricia era, and much of it centers around a new head coach and the championship pedigree he's bringing to the field.
Patricia and the Lions hold their first practice of training camp July 27, with veterans reporting a day earlier and rookies and injured players due in Allen Park on July 19.
A three-time Super Bowl champion as an assistant with the New England Patriots, Patricia spent the spring installing a new defense -- the one he ran the last six seasons as Bill Belichick's understudy -- and laying out his win-now expectations.
The Lions, arguably, have more talent on defense than the unit Patricia coached in the Super Bowl last year -- cornerback Darius Slay and defensive end Ziggy Ansah are among the best at their positions in the NFL when healthy -- but winning won't be easy for a team that hasn't won a playoff game since January of 1992 and hasn't won its division in 25 years.
The Vikings, with new quarterback Kirk Cousins under center, and Packers, with a healthy Aaron Rodgers, are both legitimate Super Bowl contenders, and the Lions will spend the summer fine-tuning a running game they hope will diversify the offense and a complicated defense most everyone on the roster is still getting used to.
Patricia successfully navigated a stormy spring in which he and the Lions had to answer to decades-old rape allegations that resurfaced in May. But those allegations appear to be back in a dormant state, and the focus this summer is only about football.
Slay, Ansah and second-year middle linebacker Jarrad Davis give the Lions hope they will field an improved defense after finishing fifth in takeaways (but 27th in yards allowed) last year, and the offense should be one of the most dangerous in the NFL with a running game to finally complement Matthew Stafford's big arm.
If all the pieces come together, the Lions could make some noise in Patricia's first season ever as a head coach.