Updated W-L Predictions for Detroit Lions' 2012 Schedule
I think it's safe to say the Detroit Lions have had an eventful offseason.
And presumably, now that the team is in training camp and preparing for the season, there won't be anymore news on the legal front.
But there's still plenty of intrigue to be had, as we finally get to shift our focus to football. Jahvid Best is looking more and more questionable, according to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, as the regular season approaches, Mikel Leshoure is missing still more time with injury, Cliff Avril missed a few days of training camp, only to show up after his son's birthday.
And then there's that whole Aaron Berry...thing. Admittedly, that's both a legal issue and a football thing, since Berry was cut after his second arrest, but it sort of served as the transition from offseason to training camp.
Regardless, we're not even to the first preseason game yet, and the regular season already looks a lot different than it did a month ago.
Normally, I try to avoid making season predictions after we're closer to the regular season and the roster has taken shape, but I imagine I'll be doing another set of these before opening Sunday, so it might be interesting to see how these predictions change based on preseason and roster results.
So for now, enjoy these game-by-game predictions for the Lions' 2012-13 season. And be gentle. I'm working with incomplete data here.
St. Louis at Detroit, September 9 (1:00 p.m.)
Prediction: Rams 13, Lions 35
For all the issues and injuries the Lions will have to deal with throughout the preseason, there is one thing that won't change.
The Lions should have a reasonably simple time dispatching the rebuilding St. Louis Rams.
It's not necessarily that the Rams won't be an improved team. Much of the team's struggles in 2011 can be attributed to the lack of starting quarterback Sam Bradford, who should be back healthy and with a collection of new weapons.
But, this is a game in which the Lions are clearly the superior team. The biggest question for the Lions will be the secondary, but the Rams also have questions about their passing game.
Somebody is going to get their question answered, but we won't know for a while whether the Lions' defense or Rams' offense is more responsible for the success/struggle.
Regardless, the Lions' offense, regardless of who's in at running back, should explode on a mediocre Rams defense to cover any deficiencies shown on the end side of the field, especially in front of a supportive home crowd.
Detroit at San Francisco, September 16 (8:20 p.m.)
Prediction: Lions 20, 49ers 21
Whatever kind of passing threat the Lions face against Sam Bradford and the Rams is likely to be greatly diminished when they face San Francisco.
Unfortunately, what the 49ers lack in the passing game, they make up for in every other area.
The Lions are sorely going to miss having Mikel Leshoure (who will be out due to suspension, whether healthy or not) in a game where the 49ers are going to try all game to take away the passing game and dare the Lions to beat them running it.
It won't work for the entire game—there's just no stopping Calvin Johnson for 60 minutes—but at home, in prime time, the 49ers have a good chance of imposing their grinding play style just enough to make the Lions feel their injury losses.
Of course, the last time the Lions played a tough contest against a surprise playoff team in Week 2, this happened. So, that's something to keep in mind.
Detroit at Tennessee, September 23 (1:00 p.m.)
Prediction: Lions 30, Titans 20
Who's this eager-looking fellow? Is that Lions head coach Jim Schwartz?
No, that is Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. It wasn't until 2009 that he became the Lions' head coach, and Sunday, September 23, will be his first game against his old team.
The Titans are a team ready to contend, perhaps, sooner than later, and there's a good chance this is a close battle. But, the Titans spent last year refusing to give their prospective franchise quarterback, Jake Locker, starts in the regular season while veteran Matt Hasselbeck was available.
Regardless of whether the Titans are settled at QB with the aging Hasselbeck or the inexperienced Locker, the Lions have a definitive edge in that department. This is a game in which the Titans are really going to feel the loss of Cortland Finnegan, as well.
Only a strong performance from a rebounding Chris Johnson will keep this one close, so look for the Lions to strike early and put the Titans into pass-first mode.
Minnesota at Detroit, September 30 (1:00 p.m.)
Prediction: Vikings 20, Lions 27
On paper, the Lions should be more than seven points better than the Vikings.
But, you tend to throw most of that out when talking about a divisional matchup. Last year, the Lions needed a 20-point comeback and a blown facemask call to pull out two victories against the Vikings.
The Lions may not need such to overcome such drastic circumstances to pull out the win here, but it's a mistake to assume the Lions will win this one in a blowout. Christian Ponder has about a half-season under his belt, and Adrian Peterson should be healthy by the end of September.
It's hard to count out any team with a healthy Adrian Peterson.
Detroit at Philadelphia, October 14 (1:00 p.m.)
Prediction: Lions 29, Eagles 26
When the Lions and Eagles last squared off, in 2010, both teams looked a lot different.
The Eagles were giving Michael Vick his first start of the second chapter of his career, having just lost "franchise" quarterback Kevin Kolb.
The Lions were giving Shaun Hill his first start in a Lions uniform, a week after being crushed about losing Matthew Stafford in the first game of the season.
In 2010, the Lions were still a hapless team, and the Eagles had not yet suffered through their free agent-laden "Dream Team" season.
This year, it's the Lions looking to sustain success, and the Eagles trying to rebound from a disappointing year. And while I admit that the Eagles look like a very good team, I am not yet a believer.
Simply put, teams put together primarily through free agency (which the Eagles currently are, despite strong draft picks like DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy) tend to amass lots of talented players, and subsequently, disappoint.
It happened to the Eagles last year, just as it happened to the Washington Redskins every single time they gave megadeals to anybody.
Some people blamed chemistry. Lots of new players together in a new place means lots of time spent working on timing, assignments and the like.
Detroit at Chicago, October 22 (Monday, 8:30 p.m.)
Prediction: Lions 23, Bears 19
I'm nowhere near as high on the Chicago Bears as analysts who call for them to leapfrog the Lions in the NFC North.
But even I think it's a bit risky to call a Lions win at Soldier Field under the bright lights of Monday Night Football.
Still, the Lions showed the propensity for hot and cold streaks last season, and while I expect more consistency this year than last, this is a good time for the Lions to run off a hot streak.
The Lions suffered one of their more embarrassing losses last season against the Bears at Soldier Field after their bye week, and Monday Night is a perfect time to earn their payback.
Expect both teams to have plenty of bulletin board material for this one, and at least 15 penalties between both teams. This one is going to be ugly. They usually are in the Windy City.
Seattle at Detroit, October 28 (1:00 p.m.)
Prediction: Seahawks 30, Lions 27
This has very little to do with Matt Flynn and his historically monstrous game against the Lions in Week 17 of last season.
Flynn certainly looks like a serviceable quarterback, but then, so did Kevin Kolb at one point. I'm not saying Flynn is another Kolb, but he's also not another Aaron Rodgers.
But really, this has much more to do with the Seahawks being a sleeper team out in the NFC West (Sample headline for that story: "Sleepers in Seattle").
Quietly, the Seahawks have put some good pieces together, and were realistically only as bad as they were last season because Tarvaris Jackson was their quarterback. Flynn doesn't have to be amazing, he just has to be better than Jackson, and the Seahawks will be leaps and bounds better.
Ultimately, the Lions are a better team, and they're at home. But they're not so great yet that they can't be surprised by an up-and-coming team, and that's what could very easily happen here, especially after a successful two-game road trip.
Last season, the Lions played three of their first four games on the road, going 4-0 for the trip. They came home to play Chicago, San Francisco and Atlanta, and went 1-2 on the homestand. A few weeks later, they were almost stunned by the Carolina Panthers.
Remember that before you dismiss this as absurd.
Detroit at Jacksonville, November 4 (1:00 p.m.)
Prediction: Lions 42, Jaguars 10
The Jacksonville Jaguars are going to make a legitimate run at being the worst team in football this season.
The team has question marks at just about every position other than primary running back.
Their 2012 first-round pick got arrested for DUI (though the Lions can't throw stones in that department) and then held out from training camp for 12 days, even though the new tiered rookie wage regulations prevented him from getting hardly anything different from what he was being offered.
Blaine Gabbert has not once shown signs of being anything but terrible.
And to top it all off, there might be more Lions fans at this game than there are Jaguars fans. No fancy upset specials here. Detroit wins it in a laugher, but Maurice Jones-Drew may be in line for a 100-yard rushing performance.
Detroit at Minnesota, November 11 (1:00 p.m.)
Prediction: Lions 33, Vikings 17
Anytime division rivals play each other, there are usually two settings: either one team has dominated for a long time, or the rivalry is alive and well and either team can win at any time.
Now that the Lions have snapped a losing streak at the Metrodome that spanned more than a decade, it should be that the rivalry is back to equilibrium and either team can win this.
That may be true, but even when it is, one team can still pull off a blowout.
I'm not going to say that 2012 will set off a decade of Lions dominance over the Vikings. But there isn't much reason to believe that the Vikings pull a game out this season.
Maybe next year will be their year.
Green Bay at Detroit, November 18 (1:00 p.m.)
Prediction: Packers 17, Lions 13
If the Lions are really 7-2 by this point in the season, this is almost certainly going to be the game of the week, because the Packers are almost certain to be sporting a similar (or better) record.
But by my prediction, the Lions will come into this game having won six of their last seven (a prediction I expect to remain, even if the one loss isn't against Seattle), and that streak has to end somewhere, sometime.
The Packers are one of the best-built teams in football, both now and for the future, and despite a playoff stumble in early 2012, they should be equally dominant (if not more so) in November.
More importantly, the Lions' secondary continues to be a problem, and the lack of depth—or more specifically the lack of experience at depth positions—might be a lot more notable as injuries pile up in the latter half of the season.
Because of that, as well as the Packers' suspect defense, this should be a high-scoring game. Which is why it will probably be the lowest-scoring, ugliest game played by either of these teams all year.
That's football for you.
Houston at Detroit, November 22 (Thanksgiving Thursday, 12:30 p.m.)
Prediction: Texans 28, Lions 21
It would be nice to see the Detroit Lions finally snap their suddenly historic Thanksgiving losing streak, especially against a team as talented as the Houston Texans.
But this year may not be the year, Lions fans. The Houston Texans are a strong team in many of the same ways as the Lions: Strong passing game spearheaded by a dominant QB-WR combo, defense that keys off a strong pass rush and coming off a year of playoff experience for the first time this decade (or ever, for the Texans).
But the Texans have a couple of things the Lions don't have: a running game led by Arian Foster, a secondary led by Johnathan Joseph and a 2011 Pro Bowler at center in Chris Myers.
If that sounds scary, it is. The Texans have the capability to be one of the most powerful, and perhaps, more importantly, most balanced teams in football. If they play to their potential, the Lions will have their hands full on Thanksgiving, to put it mildly.
Indianapolis at Detroit, December 2 (1:00 p.m.)
Prediction: Colts 14, Lions 31
This shouldn't be much of a challenge for the Lions, and on this timeline, they'll have some steam to blow off from losing two straight.
The Indianapolis Colts didn't fall apart in 2011 just because they didn't have Peyton Manning. That was the biggest portion of it, for sure, but the overall talent level on the team was dropping well before that.
The 2010 Colts just barely edged into the playoffs with a 10-6 record, amidst talks of Manning's decline, the offensive line letting him get hit more often, the lack of a consistent running game, and a thoroughly porous defense aside from two great pass-rushers (Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney).
In 2011, those problems showed up in a big way. The Colts wouldn't have ended up with a handful of former Lions 0-16ers (QB Dan Orlovsky, FB Jerome Felton and LB Ernie Sims) if they weren't serious trouble in most areas of the team.
The Colts made the right call moving on from Manning and moving forward with Andrew Luck, and the rebuilding appears to be off to a strong start, but it won't show this year.
Luck needs experience, and the Colts need a lot more talent in a lot more areas. Regardless of whether or not Luck lives up to his billing, he can't fix every problem the Colts have.
Consider how the 2012 Lions would fare against the 2009 Lions and you get an idea as to the likely outcome of this game.
Detroit at Green Bay, December 9 (8:20 p.m.)
Prediction: Lions 42, Packers 40
All the scoring that didn't happen in the first game gets made up for in this one.
Like the last game between the Lions and Packers at Lambeau Field, this game should be a shootout.
Unlike the last game, playoffs will be on the line for both teams, rather than it being a (mostly) meaningless grudge match. This is a game both teams will care to win, and the Packers will be playing their starters.
On paper, that makes the Packers runaway winners. But as we've discussed, divisional games are rarely so simple, even in games that appear somewhat lopsided (which this one may not if the Lions come in at 9-3).
Stafford already proved he could brave the elements when he set the Lambeau Field record for passing yards in a single game with 520. He did all he could to beat the Packers; they just got the final possession. This will be another back-and-forth game, and this time, the Lions hold for the final shot and shock the Packers on Sunday Night Football.
Lions win and wipe another pre-Schwartz/Stafford losing streak off the record books.
Detroit at Arizona, December 16 (4:05 p.m.)
Prediction: Lions 22, Cardinals 17
This should be a nice cool-down game from the intensity that goes along with a game against the Packers.
After a tough Sunday night game against the Packers and a long trip out West, the Lions aren't likely to be incredibly sharp. Luckily, that only means they won't beat the Cardinals by as much.
The Cardinals need to figure out their quarterback situation, and if John Skelton is the answer, they're asking the wrong question.
The team isn't terrible from top to bottom, of course. They still have a top-three wide receiver in Larry Fitzgerald and a talented young stable of running backs, but they haven't put it together yet, and much of that falls on the quarterback, who will likely be harried all day by the Lions' pass rush.
That will create enough leeway to cover for a relatively bad day by the offense.
This isn't likely to be the Lions' prettiest win of the season, but it should be a win regardless.
Atlanta at Detroit, December 22 (Saturday, 8:30 p.m.)
Prediction: Falcons 27, Lions 28
The outcome of this game in 2011 ultimately decided the order of the last two playoff seeds.
Considering the Giants went on to win the Super Bowl, that may not have equated to much of a difference in the final outcome, but you never know how the matchups would have worked out.
This time around, it's possible, if not likely, that the Lions and Falcons are battling it out over playoff spots again, with the finish line much closer than it was last year. That is to say, this could be an elimination game or "win and in" for one or both of these teams, instead of a Week 7 measuring stick.
That sets the stage rather well for a rare Saturday night showdown in Detroit, but these teams are headed in opposite directions after the Falcons mortgaged their draft future for WR Julio Jones.
Unless Jones becomes one of the league's most explosive wide receivers in 2012, the Falcons could see a decline, and the Lions have a good opportunity to use them as a stepping stone in their ascent.
Chicago at Detroit, December 30 (1:00 p.m.)
Prediction: Bears 25, Lions 23
Nobody likes to think about the Lions losing to the Bears. I mean, aside from Bears fans.
But, it could happen here, and there are a couple of good reasons why. First and foremost, on this timeline, if this prediction holds true (hold your laughter, please), the Lions are 11-4 coming into their final game of the season.
In other words, unless something has gone completely bonkers in the NFC (like when the 2008 Patriots missed the playoffs at 11-5), the Lions are likely already in the playoffs by the time this game starts.
Now, the Lions are not yet accustomed to winning in the regular season, such that they need to take it for granted. But, if the Lions are in the playoffs with 11 wins by Week 16, two other things are likely true.
1) The Packers have already clinched the division, and
2) The other wild-card team is already set, and the Lions can't change their seeding. That is, unless you expect two or more 11-win candidates for the wild card.
So, I'm not saying the Lions are going to rest their starters for this game, but the possibility exists in that scenario, especially if the team has suffered some extensive bumps and bruises to key players.
More likely, though, is that the Bears actually are fighting tooth-and-nail for a playoff spot, and they simply grind this one out. I'm not especially high on the Bears, but I'm not cocky enough to predict they won't compete for a playoff spot or that the Lions will go 5-1 in an absurdly difficult division.
Final Record and Thoughts
Final Record: 11-5, Fifth Playoff Seed
I think that this is probably the look Jim Schwartz gives to people who try to make record predictions before the first preseason game.
Or, after the first preseason game, or ever.
But I'll take that. We have to pass the time somehow while we wait for that last month to pass before opening day.
A funny argument I often hear is that the Lions didn't really make any changes to their team, and that's why they're going to backslide in 2012.
That's like saying I'm going to keep all of my money, and that's why I have less money.
It's true that the Lions didn't sell the farm to address some of the team's biggest weaknesses (whether real or imagined).
It's true that the Lions are going to hate not having Aaron Berry on the team next year, when the secondary was already questionable.
It's also true that the Lions have serious questions in the running game, as the two guys expected to act as saviors for that unit as soon as they were healthy are once again unhealthy.
But offsetting all of that is the fact that the bulk of the Lions' talent is in the 25-years-and-under category, and those are the players most likely to play significantly better each year.
If that's the case, then picture Matthew Stafford, Louis Delmas, Ndamukong Suh, Amari Spievey, Willie Young, Nick Fairley and Titus Young all come out and have the best seasons of their respective careers?
Sure, some of them will improve over last year, some will hold steady and some may even decline. But, assuming there is at least more improvement than decline in that talent base, can anyone argue that's not worth at least one-game improvement over 2011, regardless of the team's other issues?