There are a lot of doubters when it comes to the Lions' chances in 2012. Many, many analysts are predicting a step back, if not a straight up implosion, for the team this year.
It's a tough schedule, but is it too tough?
We're about to find out as I predict all 16 games for the 2012 season.
WEEK 1: vs. RAMS—WIN
You can't ask for a better opening week, save maybe the even worse off Colts. While the Rams defense is decent, and they have Steven Jackson, I don't feel they've added much to the receiver corps, and that's going to be bad for a team trying to keep up with the Lions.
It's also hard to gauge where this offensive line will be come September. They didn't look good last year, though they're better than they showed. Still, against Ndamukong Suh and friends, quarterback Sam Bradford may be in for a very long day.
As I mentioned, the defense isn't terrible, in fact, it's pretty good. That said, it doesn't have the stamina to outrace an offense with Calvin Johnson, Titus Young, Nate Burleson and Brandon Pettigrew.
We'll get to see what Jahvid Best has in the tank, and it's the first of two games where he's the primary back with no split of carries as Mikel Leshoure's out on suspension.
This shouldn't be close.
WEEK 2: at 49ers—WIN
This was a tough one to figure, and no matter which way I went, someone was going to be unhappy.
I ended up going in favor of Detroit for three simple reasons.
First, the Lions offense far surpasses the 49ers—I don't care if they clone Randy Moss and field a whole group of wide receivers with the clones, you still have Alex Smith throwing to him. Smith finally looked good last year, but he isn't, and never will be, on par with Matt Stafford.
Just as old Randy Moss isn't in the same class as Calvin Johnson, Michael Crabtree isn't in the same class as Titus Young—I could go on.
I would call Vernon Davis and Brandon Pettigrew pretty much a wash, by the way.
The one place where the Niners offense has it over the Lions is at running back—Frank Gore (even at 400 years old) is better than Jahvid Best.
That said, it is in no way enough.
Yes, even with an outstanding defense. We'll get to that in a minute.
Second, the Lions defense is pretty darn good as well. So, even if Smith & company had the ammunition to keep up with the Lions, the defense won't allow that to happen.
Last year's version of the San Fran offense survived on Smith's short, quick passes, and that's unlikely to get the job done again the Lions. Yes, I have concerns about the general over-aggressiveness of the front seven, but against this team, I am a lot less concerned.
Finally, the 49ers defense is very, very good—it won't be enough to contain this offense.
This early in the season, with everyone healthy and coming off what should be a good win over the Rams, this team is primed to prove that they are legit.
People keep doubting them, and it's given them a chip on their shoulder. This game is an early statement game.
The offense—for that matter, the defense as well—wants to put the league on notice and will do it by stomping a team who surprised everyone and nearly made the Super Bowl in 2011.
WEEK 3: at TITANS—WIN
The Titans are actually going to be better than some folks think, but it won't be enough.
It should be an intriguing game though. Will Chris Johnson recapture his 2010 form? Will Jake Locker or Matt Hasselbeck be starter? Will the defense miss Cortland Finnegan? Will Kenny Britt stay healthy?
Some of these questions will be answered by Week 3, but that makes this no less intriguing. How Locker would react to Suh and the defensive front or if the secondary can hold Britt in check are intriguing storylines.
I expect the Lions to keep Johnson in check (and frankly, I don't think he ever gets back to 2010 form) and harass whichever quarterback is under center.
I like the Titan defense, but it won't contain Stafford and the receivers. I also expect a heavy dose of Mikel Leshoure to grind the Tennessee front down.
It won't be a runaway—nobody save the Rams will be at this point—but it will be a win on the road.
WEEK 4: vs. VIKINGS—WIN
Yup, I have them undefeated for the first four games. I'll be honest, and even if I get that San Fran game wrong, 3-1 is very likely and will form the basis for a very strong year.
Ultimately though, the Vikings won't be able to contain the Lions—in Detroit. The secondary is the biggest problem, and while the safeties will improve, I have some doubts about the corners.
Again, this may not be a blow out, but at home against the weakest of their NFC North foes, I expect this to be a win.
WEEK 5: BYE
The Lions will have to get themselves ready because from here on out, it's going to be very tough quite frequently.
WEEK 6: at EAGLES—LOSS
So here ends the run at an undefeated season, for whatever that's worth (which an undefeated pats team will tell you isn't much).
It's very hard to win at The Linc to begin with, and they come across a team which is better defensively than in 2011 and apt to be more cohesive offensively as well.
It's the defense which will make the difference.
I expect the play of Nnamdi Asomugha to bounce back, and the addition of Demeco Ryans to a defensive front with Jason Babin and Trent Cole could spell trouble for the Lions.
This is one game I foresee the Lions offense being stymied in, and while the defense will do a fair job against the Eagles offense, it won't quite be enough. Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin and Desean Jackson will do enough to get the job done.
WEEK 7: at BEARS—LOSS
About as long a skid as we might see from the Lions this season, but a skid nonetheless.
This is most certainly not the same Bears team as it was in 2011. Gone are the seven-step drops of Mike Martz as well as his overcomplicated blocking scheme and in are the more simple-and-straightforward plays of Mike Tice.
It's not going to be as simple as overloading the line until it breaks—plays will move too quickly for that. Brandon Marshall is better than nearly any receiver the Bears have had since, well, ever, and Alshon Jeffery is the real deal. Add to that the reliable Earl Bennett and the one-two punch in the backfield of Matt Forte and Michael Bush and it will be a tough fight for the Lions defense.
They'll score, but they'll do so less than you might expect.
The "X" factor here is the play of the Bears defense. Will it hold up for another season? I'm betting yes—I love the addition of Shea McClellin to the defensive end spot, and the rotation of McClellin, Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije will be a tremendous source of production, and I fully expect another outstanding year from Brian Urlacher.
The Bears' secondary will tell the tale—I think they did enough to patch it up, though it isn't by any means a shutdown secondary. However, it's good enough to take advantage of an outstanding front seven.
The first round in this always contentious rivalry goes to the home team.
WEEK 8: vs. SEAHAWKS—WIN
Two losses and a trip home to face the Seahawks is a recipe for a big game by this team. Expect head coach Jim Schwartz to get his team right and fired up.
The Seahawks' biggest issue is it's offensive line, and I didn't really see it get much better this offseason, though it did get healthier which will help.
Still, it's not going to give Matt Flynn, or whomever wins, the job enough time to find the receivers before he gets hit.
Defensively, like a few teams before it, the Seahawks aren't bad—in fact I think they are pretty strong. It's just not going to be enough to hold on while the offense struggles.
I give this to an angry Lions team at home without much concern.
WEEK 9: at JAGUARS—WIN
I honestly don't know what to expect from the Jags this year. Even if Blaine Gabbert improves upon his 2011, that's not saying much. The wide receivers aren't much better than last year—Laurent Robinson aside, I don't think he does much with Gabbert.
Maurice Jones-Drew will be a factor as always, but it's him against the world—the world in this case being the Lions' front seven.
The defense is solid in Jacksonville, but this is another case of a unit being unable to hold on while its offensive unit flounders.
WEEK 10: at VIKINGS—WIN
This is a tricky game, as all second games in a home-and-home series are. The Vikings will be a dangerous team the second time around, but the concerns I have remain the same. The only change could be injuries to either team, but there's no telling what that would look like.
The Vikings will give a good fight of it, but that's not going to be enough.
So after 10 weeks, the Lions are sitting pretty at 7-2. That's not enough; they want to be carrying enough cushion in case the very tough end of the season becomes too much.
WEEK 11: vs PACKERS—LOSS
The Packers have a lot riding on their defense-heavy draft, and my assumption is, as of now, that it's a winning bet for them.
This whole offseason (much to the consternation of every Packer fan and a fair amount of Bears fans), I have given the nod to the Lions when it comes to offensive firepower. It's really, really close, but the Lions have just a bit more going on, particularly if the run game is firing off like I believe it will be.
It's going to come down to defense and going to come down to the secondary—and folks, the Lions' secondary just isn't as good as the Packers'.
Sure, the Packers had problems with the secondary last year, but at least half of them (maybe more) stemmed from the lack of pass rush. If the Packers can get a smidge of pass rush—and I expect them to get more than that—then it will make the secondary much more effective.
This is going to come down to one play by one of the defenses—this time, the ball bounces the Pack's way.
WEEK 12: vs. TEXANS—LOSS
It may not help you to know that I have the Texans beating the Packers too, but I do.
That's the high regard I have for a team which made some noise with a banged up running back, star wide receiver and a third-string quarterback. This team lost two defensive players who may be stars on their new teams but didn't fit the scheme of the Texans anymore.
Think about that—they lost good talent but may have gotten better.
Assuming everyone is healthy, this could be a nice shootout, with both offenses throwing all over the field (with some nice runs on occasion) and the defenses trying to alter their scheme to get around the blocking.
If there's one potential Achilles' heel for the Texans, it could be an offensive line which lost some talent—it isn't easy to replace guys in this scheme.
However, by Week 12, they've worked the bugs out, and the Texans manage just one more big play than the Lions, shocking them a bit with a second straight home loss.
WEEK13: vs COLTS—WIN
Week 13 or as I would call it, hard rebound week. As much as I like Andrew Luck—and I do—this offense is not going to be able to withstand the onslaught of the Lions' front seven.
Defensively—well the Colts went hard after offense in the draft and didn't do much at all for the defense at large, and that may haunt them all season long.
It certainly will in this game when Matt Stafford blows it up for a ton of yards and touchdowns.
The Colts won't like running into this team after two home losses.
WEEK 14: at PACKERS—LOSS
You have to beat the champ to be the champ and as good as the Lions (and Bears) have become in the last year, it isn't enough to do it—yet.
I actually don't know if the Packers will lose a divisional game at all.
The Lions will play hard, and it will be close, but they won't steal one at Lambeau Field.
WEEK 15: at CARDINALS—WIN
This just isn't a good team. The Cardinals have good players—Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd being two of them—but too many things don't work. The offensive line is mediocre—the running backs are underwhelming Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams, who's coming off a serious leg injury.
The defense is questionable as well.
The Lions will be zeroing in on locking down a playoff berth and will run right over another weak NFC West opponent.
WEEK 16: vs. FALCONS—WIN
Here's an interesting dilemma. Will the Falcons find a way to stop the fantastic wide receivers the Lions have before the Lions do the same to them?
I say no, and the difference is Matt Stafford. I like Matt Ryan, but Stafford is a much better quarterback—top to bottom. When push comes to shove, I will take Stafford with the game on the line over Ryan.
It doesn't help that while the Falcons defense is good, it's not nearly as good as the Lions will be.
So look for both Lions units to pull out that one big play when it counts and send the Falcons home with a big, fat "L."
WEEK 17: vs. BEARS—WIN
Best-case scenario is that the Lions have sewn up a playoff spot, and this game only matters for pride. More than likely, though, the race will be tight, and they'll need this one.
At home, with the playoffs on the line in the second meeting of the year, the Lions will come out on top.
If the Bears were able to stifle Calvin Johnson in Game 1, then the Lions will spread it out. If the run game wasn't used much, they'll use it more. The defense will come in fired up and looking to prove something. The home crowd will sound a lot like Armageddon.
The Lions will make the adjustments they need to, and with everything on the line, come up with a big win, making the playoffs for the second straight year.
In the end, they're at 11-5—a very nice record and an improvement over an impressive 2011.
Let the haters hate—to me, it's very clear that this talented team is heading to the postseason where anything could happen.
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