Forecasting the 7 Toughest Games on the Detroit Lions' 2012 Schedule
In the salary cap era in the NFL, there are very few “gimme” games. The league has been designed to promote equality from top to bottom and most games still hang in the balance as the fourth quarter of each contest begins.
With the manifestation of parity in the league, a winning record is no guarantee of future success and, likewise, a miserable year does not guarantee another disappointing season.
The Lions surprised many with their 10-6 record in 2011, but can they follow up that winning season with another playoff-caliber campaign in 2012 and post back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 1995?
If they can, the following seven contests will be the most difficult on the schedule to put in the win column.
Week 12 Houston
Everyone likes to think the Lions have an advantage on Thanksgiving Day; after all, they play at home on Turkey Day every year so they must have the upper hand, right?
Unfortunately, very wrong. The Lions are only 33-37-2 historically in the Thursday afternoon classic and have not won on Thanksgiving since 2003.
This has annually been the rare occasion for the NFL to showcase their Detroit franchise, but with a national audience comes a quality opponent and usually more humiliation.
The Houston Texans are the NFL’s choice this year and they are no different. Matt Schaub and the boys from Southern Texas will be favored to win their division this year and with playmakers Andre Johnson and Arian Foster, the Texans bring a balanced attack that can grind you down or go over the top.
I do think the Lions will finally get off the schneid and get their first Thanksgiving Day victory in nine years, but it won’t be easy.
Schwartz has preached how he wants to protect the Detroit tradition of pro football on Thanksgiving; he can start this year with a victory against a probable division leader.
Week 6 at Philadelphia
To avoid a knockout blow when they head to the City of Brotherly Love, the Detroit Lions will need to play one of their best games of the season.
The 2011 season for the Eagles was probably one of the biggest disappointments of the year. After signing Nnamdi Asomugha and Jason Babin, along with the rebirth of Michael Vick, it was Super Bowl or bust for the Eagles.
But an 8-8 finish without a playoff appearance leaves the 2012 version with something to prove.
Gil Brandt, The Godfather of NFL.com, has the Eagles ranked third in his preseason power rankings and all signs point to a much-improved squad.
The Lions have historically had their problems in the Streets of Philadelphia and this year will be no different. Detroit does come off its bye week prior to this contest, but it will take a Balboa-like effort to get out of Philly with a win.
Week 16 Atlanta
This game should have a playoff atmosphere in late December.
Week 16 brings the Atlanta Falcons to town and with the offseason problems of the New Orleans Saints, Matt Ryan will probably have his team safely atop the NFC South and looking to secure at least one home game in the playoffs. The question is, will Detroit be in the same boat?
Probably not. If Detroit does win the NFC North, it will come down to the final week of the season. More than likely, the Lions will be fighting for their playoff lives and this game will be treated as a must-win affair.
Revenge should be on the mind of most Lion players as Atlanta came to town last year and won 23-16 and gave the Lions back-to-back home losses after their surprising 5-0 start.
Ford Field should be raucous as ESPN will be in the house for a Saturday night showdown with Santa hats and holiday cheer abound. Detroit will need every one of the Lions faithful to bring the noise to send the Falcons home with coal in their stockings.
Week 11 Green Bay
If things go according to plan, this game should be for first in the NFC North.
More than half of the season will be in the books before Detroit gets its shot at the defending division champion Green Bay Packers.
The last time Detroit hosted Green Bay was on Thanksgiving Day and it held its own early on. Then, Ndamukong Suh was ejected, the wheels fell of the cart and the Lions suffered another Turkey Day defeat.
Make no mistake; the Lions have November 18 circled as a statement game. But they will need to take care of business earlier in the season for this game to have the impact they envision.
Detroit has become predictable, but that’s not a bad thing. Last year, they beat the teams they should have and lost to the teams that had more talent. To take the next step, they need to beat the better teams in the league.
Defeating the Packers will not be an easy task; they are a veteran group with a Pro Bowl-caliber QB and Super Bowl hardware. They have been to the top of the mountain and will be fresh coming off their bye prior to their trip to the Motor City.
If Detroit can protect home field and turn back The Pack, it will put the rest of the league on notice that the Lions are for real.
Week 7 at Chicago
Last year’s trip to the Windy City was one of the low points of the season.
You remember, Detroit had crucified the Denver Broncos at the Alter of Tebow two weeks prior and headed to the bye week feeling good about their 6-2 start.
Then four interceptions—two returned for touchdowns—and a Devin Hester TD punt return later, the Lions received a reality pimp slap with a 37-13 embarrassment at the paws of the Bears’ version of the orange crush.
I would not expect another interception fiesta from Stafford this time. His throwing hand is healed, and this game will be played prior to Halloween without the blustery winds that are common off of Lake Michigan later in autumn.
But Devin Hester will still be returning kicks, and Jay Cutler has been reunited with Brandon Marshall, so the passing attack for Da Bears will be dramatically improved. Toss in a Monday night kickoff that will help lube up the Abe Froman disciples while limiting the migration of Lions fans to Chicago and it all adds up to an extremely difficult road win.
Week 2 at San Francisco
As we all await the 2012 season, there is no game more eagerly anticipated than the roadie to the town where Tony Bennett left his heart.
This game will be hyped by the networks like a playoff game as the Lions and 49ers have created a new found rivalry after last year's meeting at Ford Field.
I’m gonna go out a limb here and say Jim Schwartz has been looking forward to this rematch since the schedules were announced and will have a little extra motivation to steal one from Jim Harbaugh and his squad at Candlestick.
“Shakegate” will probably never come to fruition as both men realize nothing can be gained by dwelling on the past, but if there are some unnecessary transgressions on the field, fireworks are possible.
As far as the actual game, the San Francisco defense is dominant and they’re even better at home. Their running game gashed Detroit last year at Ford Field and the Lions must find an answer for the wham plays that killed them previously.
This will be one of the most difficult games for the Lions to win in 2012. It’ll be early in the season and they will be without Mikel Leshoure and likely Nick Fairley. They will need a near flawless performance to get revenge for last year’s defeat.
If they can pull of the Week 2 upset, the nation will be watching as this game will be the Sunday night NFL game of the week on NBC. A victory by the bay will put the Lions in the national spotlight and an early chic pick for the Super Bowl.
Week 14 at Green Bay
I hope this wasn’t a shocker for any of you.
Can the Lions finally get a win at Lambeau? The last time Detroit got on the plane victoriously in Green Bay was December 15th, 1991.
How about this, the last Lions win on the frozen tundra happened only days before the end of the Cold War! The Cold freakin’ War; that’s how far back you have to go, Reagan v Gorbachev.
If Matt Flynn can turn one Sunday into a winning lottery ticket, it’s scary to think what Aaron Rodgers could do on a blistery December afternoon.
Needless to say, this will be undoubtedly the most difficult game on the schedule for the Lions to win.