Detroit Lions: 5 Games That Could Make or Break the 2012 Season

Chris Madden@@christomaddenAnalyst IIMay 10, 2012

Detroit Lions: 5 Games That Could Make or Break the 2012 Season

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    The Detroit Lions' 2012 regular season schedule was released several weeks ago and on the surface it was a testament to how far the Lions have come.

    Last season they posted an impressive 10-6 record en route to their first playoff berth in over a decade.

    More importantly they have a number of young and marketable players that turned the Lions into must-see-TV.

    Let's face it. The Lions are hip and relevant!

    It sounds weird but it's true. The 2012 schedule is all the proof you need.

    Detroit's fortunes have changed and so the brain trust that is the NFL scheduling department finally showed the Lions some love with four nationally televised prime-time games.

    When has that ever happened? Not recently that's for sure.

    That's all well and good but don't let giddy anticipation cloud your judgment. The Lions have some very difficult matchups next year and will be hard pressed to repeat their success from 2011. 

    I've highlighted five pivotal games that Detroit must win.

    These contests have all the trappings of classic swing-games—the outcomes could dramatically affect every game that follows.

Week 2: At San Francisco 49ers

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    The first prime-time affair comes early for the Lions. In the second game of the year they'll travel to the West Coast to face their new rivals from the Bay Area.

    One thing I know for sure. Jim Schwartz and Jim Harbaugh will spend the week prior to the game bemoaning the media's attempts to over-hype the contest.

    It will be advertised as Schwartz vs. Harbaugh II. In reality it's only an early season matchup between two very good playoff-bound teams.

    That won't stop the hype machine from over-inflating this game's importance though.

    It doesn't really need hype. This is the first statement-game of the year for the Lions, and it has nothing to do with the coaches.

    Despite Detroit's improved record last year, they failed to beat any elite teams. The only playoff team they defeated was the Denver Broncos.

    The Lions need to win at San Francisco to prove to themselves, and the rest of the NFL, that they aren't simply paper-champions beating up on the losers of the league.

    What better way to set the tone for the season than to defeat a team that vied for the conference championship in 2011.

    Riding the wave of enthusiasm from this win, the Lions could find themselves in the midst of another win streak to start the year.

Week 6: At Philadelphia Eagles

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    Despite the city's moniker, the Detroit Lions will not find any brotherly love when the travel to Philadelphia in Week 6. 

    What they will find is an improved Eagles team who is hell-bent on proving that last season's disaster was a fluke.

    Coming off their bye week, this is Detroit's first game of the second quarter of the season. Three out of those four matchups are road games. They travel to Chicago and Jacksonville and host Seattle at Ford Field.

    Needless to say, wins will be at a premium during this difficult stretch.

    A win against an improved Eagles team would be a great way to start the second quarter of the season. Keep in mind that in 2011 the Lions lost two straight games during this stretch of games.

    A win at Philly would give them a realistic chance of winning at least three out of the next four games.

Week 7: At Chicago Bears

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    For the second year in a row the Lions will face the Chicago Bears on the biggest stage the NFL regular season has to offer: Monday Night Football.

    As if this rivalry needed to get any hotter.

    They split the series last season. The Lions won at home on Monday Night which set the Motor City abuzz with Honolulu Blue Hysteria.

    Then they lost in the wind tunnel that is Soldier Field. That was also the brawl-game.

    Tensions are high between these two teams and everyone should expect a street fight on October 22nd.

    For that reason, this game is a potential momentum breaker. Losing a game like this can knock the wind out of a team.

    It's not crazy to think Detroit could be 4-1 coming into the prime-time rumble with the Bears. A win could certainly propel them to another level. A loss could derail the season.

    Let's ignore the hype though. This game is important because the Bears are conference rivals who will push Detroit for the Wild Card or the division title depending on how good Green Bay is.

    Detroit needs to stay one step ahead of Chicago and the best way to do that is to beat them head-to-head.

Week 10: At Minnesota Vikings

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    Detroit swept the season series with the Minnesota for the first time in over a decade last year. Repeating that feat will be an arduous task given the circumstances of both victories.

    Late-game heroics by Matthew Stafford in the first meeting and a last second fumble recovery in the second were the only differences between two wins and two losses.

    Yet the perception is that the Lions are head and shoulders better than the Vikings. On paper maybe, but games aren't won on paper.

    Keep in mind the game is at the Metrodome. This is the house of horrors where Detroit has an 8-22 overall record and had lost 13 in a row prior to 2011.

    To say the Metrodome has been a bugaboo for Detroit would be like saying John Wilkes Booth was a bugaboo for Abraham Lincoln.

    The point is, regardless of Minnesota's record, this will be a difficult game to win. Yet vital to win if the Lions want to keep up in the NFC North playoff race. 

Week 11: Green Bay Packers at Ford Field

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    You probably noticed that this is the first home game on the list. That's not because I don't think winning at home is important. It's because every home game that comes before it is very winnable.

    Also consider that when the Packers come to town, it will only be the Lions' fourth home game of the season. That's right, Week 11 and they will only have played three games at Ford Field.

    The Lions will be road warriors the first two thirds of the season. So when they take on the cheese heads on November 18th, they really need to use that home field advantage to get a win.

    This game will not carry the hype of their prime-time matchup at Lambeau Field three weeks later, but it is more important to Detroit's psyche. 

    Detroit needs to exercise their demons against Green Bay. It's a similar situation to the Bad Boy era Pistons. They needed to beat the Celtics in order to reach their championship goals.

    Detroit's road to glory runs through Green Bay.

    The Lions beat the Packers in 2010 but Aaron Rodgers left the game with a concussion early on. Many people put an asterisk next to that win.

    For that reason the Lions need to outplay the Packers at full strength.  

    In order to be the best you have to beat the best and the best chance to do that is at Ford Field.  

Week 17: Chicago Bears at Ford Field

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    Did I mention that this rivalry was getting nasty? Forget all the history, this game will be the follow-up to the Monday Night affair in Week 7 and one team will be looking for payback.

    Chances are both teams will be looking for a playoff berth too. Since this is the last game of the season it could be a real dogfight.

    Last year Chicago faded down the stretch when Jay Cutler and Matt Forte were injured. If the injury bug had not bitten them it's realistic to think the Bears would have been there till the end, fighting for the Wild Card spot.

    That could definitely happen in 2012.

    If healthy the Bears will push the Lions for a playoff spot all season. That's why they're listed twice on this list and that's why the final game of the season could decide both their fates.

    This game could be a must-win situation.

    Detroit has one thing going for them though. The game is at their house. They'll have the advantage and they'll be favored.

    Whether they can use that edge and prevail remains to be seen. It could be the difference between a second straight year in the playoffs or a long offseason.