Calvin Johnson's monster 1964-yard receiving season didn't prevent the Lions from struggling last year.
After making the playoffs in 2011, the Lions imploded with a 4-12 record in 2012 despite having a talented offense and a slightly improved defense.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford and superstar receiver Calvin Johnson form the most exciting duo in the league and will be poised for a bounce-back campaign. However, the NFC North is among the toughest divisions in football, and the Lions' minus-16 turnover differential in 2012 won't get the job done.
Here is a breakdown of the team's schedule and dates and an analysis of Detroit's prospective opponents and its most critical contests.
|2013 Detroit Lions Schedule|
|Week||Date||Opponent||Time (ET) ||TV|
|1||Sept. 8 ||vs. Minnesota Vikings ||1 p.m. ||FOX|
|2||Sept. 15 ||at Arizona Cardinals ||4:05 p.m. ||FOX|
|3||Sept. 22 ||at Washington Redskins||1 p.m.||FOX|
|4||Sept. 29||vs. Chicago Bears||1 p.m.||FOX|
|5||Oct. 6||at Green Bay Packers||1 p.m.||FOX|
|6||Oct. 13||at Cleveland Browns||1 p.m.||FOX|
|7||Oct. 20||vs. Cincinnati Bengals||1 p.m.||CBS|
|8||Oct. 27||vs. Dallas Cowboys ||1 p.m.||FOX|
|9||Nov. 3||BYE WEEK||—||—|
|10||Nov. 10||at Chicago Bears||1 p.m.||FOX|
|11||Nov. 17||at Pittsburgh Steelers||1 p.m.||FOX|
|12||Nov. 24||vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers||1 p.m.||FOX|
|13||Dec. 1||vs. Green Bay Packers||12:30 p.m. ||FOX|
|14||Dec. 8||at Philadelphia Eagles||1 p.m.||FOX|
|15||Dec. 15||vs. Baltimore Ravens||8:40 p.m.||ESPN|
|16||Dec. 22 ||vs. New York Giants||4:05 p.m. ||FOX|
|17||Dec. 29 ||at Minnesota Vikings||1 p.m.||FOX|
Note: For a complete look at Detroit's 2013 schedule, check out NFL.com.
The divisional slate is going to be tough enough for the Lions, but the other games don't promise to be any easier.
The Philadelphia Eagles underachieved in 2012, but they should be better with a revamped defense and a new regime led by head coach Chip Kelly. Detroit can only hope to draw from its massive comeback in Lincoln Financial Field from a season ago.
How will the Lions fare in 2013?
Additional road tests loom against the reigning NFC East champion Washington Redskins and the Arizona Cardinals. Since the Lions play the AFC North in 2013, traveling to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns will also be difficult trips to make.
That leaves the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens and wild card Cincinnati Bengals to visit Ford Field. The New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys are also eager to get back into the postseason after narrowly missing the cut in 2012.
There is so much parity in the NFL that assessing the difficulty of a schedule at this juncture is always difficult.
Having said that, the Lions must cut down on the giveaways and mental mistakes to have any hope of contending for the playoffs. This is a make-or-break year for head coach Jim Schwartz and the rest of the staff, as another down year will likely result in a regime change.
Most Pivotal Matchup
It's hard to choose one single game throughout the 16-game schedule as the most significant, but one thing is certain: Detroit must improve within the NFC North.
In 2012, the Lions failed to notch a victory in the division, and four of those losses were part of the eight-game losing streak that closed out 2012.
To have an ideal shot at a playoff run, the Lions would have to win three of the six prospective divisional clashes to ease the pressure when they tangle with other foes. The familiarity factor should help the cause, but each division competitor boasts a dangerous offense and talented defense.
The Minnesota Vikings will be extremely difficult to beat due to their young, talented nucleus and upgraded offense led by Adrian Peterson and new No. 1 wide receiver Greg Jennings.
Out of six games in the North in 2012, the Lions lost by more than one possession just once—against Minnesota in a 34-24 Week 10 defeat.
Green Bay promises to be a contender once again due to its high-octane passing offense keyed by quarterback Aaron Rodgers. If the Packers improve at all in the running game and limit yielding explosive plays to any degree, they should win at least 10 games.
Even though the Chicago Bears lost a lot of players on defense and are in the midst of a coaching change, they should be a big factor early in the season if the past two campaigns are any indication.
Early victories in the NFC North are absolutely essential for the Lions to pick up momentum by the middle of the season. Week 10 at Chicago will be especially huge coming off the bye week.
As long as the mistakes are limited and newly acquired running back Reggie Bush eases the pressure on Detroit's passing attack, it is feasible that the Lions will bounce back in 2013.