DETROIT -

Many Lions fans are expecting more this coming season.

After all, the Lions went 10-6 and finally got back to the postseason for the first time in a decade.  The idea is that the Lions are heading in the right direction and it's only normal to expect them to take the next stop, winning the NFC North and ultimately having a shot at their first Super Bowl.

There's only one little reason non-fans aren't as convinced. It's the defense, especially the secondary.

Everybody knows the Lions' offense is elite, even without a real-threat running game. That's because Calvin Johnson is considered by many as the best receiver in the NFL. It's hard to argue with his stats last season. And quarterback Matthew Stafford was able to stay healthy all season and threw for over 5,000 yards.

But most NFL experts have not predicted the Lions to make it to the postseason this season, which starts on Sunday afternoon against the St. Louis Rams at Ford Field. While the Lions are expected to win the opener, they will start four new starters in the secondary -- two because of injuries to Louis Delmas and Chris Houston.

It's Defense

Still, the Lions aren't willing to pass the buck when it comes to the defense being the key to a successful season.

"You're not about to get me to say anything bad about my defense," Johnson said on Thursday after practice in Allen Park. "Nothing that can be twisted around. We definitely has confidence in them. We have some serious talent. We brought in some more guys over there on the defensive end. I'm looking forward to seeing them guys on the field."

Kyle Vanden Bosch believes the Lions' defensive line should be the best in the league and should record the most sacks up front. Unlike most, Vanden Bosch is high on the defense.

"There's a lot on continuity with our front seven," he said. "We've got the people. We've got the talent. And I feel like we've made some tweaks, scheme-wise. So we will be able to give teams different looks."

Coach Jim Schwartz isn't concerned about his secondary. He just wants his defense to stop the long runs that hurt them a year ago.

"We we're fine as far as the run game," said Schwartz, whose team gave up five yards a carry in 2011. "We saw too many of those (the long runs). big chunks. We have to do a better job plugging stuff up. More importantly, tackling and being in the right spots in our secondary."

Tough Division

It's not just all about the Lions when it comes to them being shut out from the playoffs. The Packers, who won the division at 15-1 last season, have improved defensively. Plus, many believe that as long as Aaron Rodgers is healthy, the Pack will always be in the hunt for the top spot. That's how good Rodgers has been over the last few seasons when the Packs have posted a 21-2 mark in their last 23 games.

Many also see the Bears as having moved past the Lions with some key pickups in the offseason, including big-time receiver Brandon Marshall. He has re-connected with Jay Cutler. The Bears also added another running back to help Matt Forte. And the Bears defense was already good.

"That's why every week is going to be important in this division," center Dominic Raiola said. "I don't think you can look at any week and think it's an automatic win. You have to concentrate every week and win every week because you never know what game is going to be the one that catapults you or sets you back."

2012 Prediction

The Lions' schedule doesn't look too bad. There are some games that look like layups, including the Rams, Colts and Jaguars. Still, some can't get past the defense in the final two games of the season in which the Lions gave up 45 points to the Packers in the season finale and 45 points to the Saints in their playoff game.

That's 90 points against a secondary most believe has been weakened this season.

Look for the Lions to go 8-8 and not make the playoffs. It will be a step back for Detroit.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

PARKER'S PRO PICK -- Lions 27, Rams 20