The 5 Games That Will Determine the Detroit Lions' Fate in 2013
The beauty of the 16-game NFL season is that virtually every game is a must-win.
Of course, that's not absolutely true. Not every team that makes the playoffs goes 16-0, of course. But over the course of every season, there are some games that are seen as turning points.
Sometimes it's a win that changes playoff positioning, or that sparks a strong run, or ends a skid. Or maybe it's a loss that does the opposite of some of those things.
In either case, the Lions this season will be no exception. While there are no games on the schedule that are true "throwaway" games, there are a few that should tell the tale for the entire season.
In other words, by looking at these five games, we should get a pretty good sense for how the other 11 will go.
Week 5: At Green Bay Packers
At some point, this thing's gotta give.
This is the earliest in the season the Lions have had to play Green Bay since 2010, when they played them at Lambeau Field in Week 4.
Luckily for the Lions, the "Frozen Tundra" will be less frozen in early October than it was last December (pictured). That more or less eliminates the Packers' weather advantage, but it doesn't change the fact that Lambeau Field is a deadly place for the Lions to play.
The Lions are into their 22nd season of not beating the Packers at home, and while the Lions have wiped away a number of their other extended losing streaks, this is one of the longest and more humiliating streaks in team history, and it continues to persist.
It's hard to consider any team as truly "turning the corner" until it can crawl out from the shadow of their division rivals. Nobody takes a team seriously that isn't even the best of the four teams in its division.
Week 6: At Cleveland Browns
By most accounts, the Cleveland Browns should be pretty awful in 2013. There's always room to be surprised, but most likely the Browns and the Arizona Cardinals should battle it out for the worst team on the Lions' 2013 schedule.
That may seem like it makes this a less important game, but that couldn't be less true. The Lions made the playoffs in 2011 mostly because they beat the teams they were supposed to beat. There was much talk about their inability to beat a team with a winning record, but on the flip side of that is that they beat every team on their schedule that finished with a losing record.
Beating up on the league's weaker teams isn't exactly a way to send an ultimatum to the rest of the league, but it is something the Lions should be able to do without much incident.
Also, this is the second of back-to-back road games for the Lions. The one before this is against the Packers at Lambeau Field. So just in case that one goes south, as it has every year since 1991, the Lions would do well to pull this one out.
If the Lions lose against Green Bay, this game is a chance to right the ship. If they beat Green Bay, then this becomes a trap game, easy to overlook while coming down from a huge win for the franchise. Either way, this game is a point of emphasis.
Week 10: At Chicago Bears
This isn't so much about this being an important divisional matchup. It is, just because divisional games are so important in terms of playoff positioning.
But the Lions shouldn't have to work too hard to keep the Bears out of the playoffs—they'll do a fine job of that on their own. What's really important about this game isn't that it's against the Bears, it's that it's the first game the Lions have back from their bye week.
The Lions' bye in 2013 is in Week 9—the exact midpoint of the season. They will have two weeks to prepare for the Bears at Soldier Field, and the outcome of that game will likely set the tone for the entire second half of the season.
In 2011, the Lions went 6-2 prior to their bye week. They lost in Week 10 (to the Bears at Soldier Field, no less), on the way to a 4-4 finish (4-5 counting the playoffs). It may seem like a small thing, but starting the second half of the season on a winning note makes a big difference.
Winning and losing streaks loom large in a 16-game season, and the outcome of this game could spark either.
Week 13: Vs. Green Bay Packers (Thanksgiving Day)
The last time the Lions won a game on Thanksgiving, it was in 2003, against the Green Bay Packers.
The last time the Lions played the Packers on Thanksgiving, the Packers were undefeated and the Lions were playoff-bound. It was 2011, the Lions were skidding and needed badly to prove themselves against a quality team.
Instead, the Lions got blown out in the second half, and Ndamukong Suh earned has infamous reputation for unhappy feet.
If the Lions are truly improved and ready to take the next step in their development, they need to snap their Thanksgiving Day losing streak before it gets to 10 and do it against the rival team to beat in the division.
It also helps that this game, being a divisional matchup, is likely to be a key factor in determining whether the Lions are jockeying for playoff position.
Week 1: Vs. Minnesota Vikings
Because nothing is more important than that first step.
Coming off a 2011 Lions-style surprise playoff appearance in 2012, the Minnesota Vikings will be out to prove they are a legitimate threat in the NFC North once again.
Similarly, the Lions will be out to prove that their 2011 season wasn't a fluke, following a down 2012 year.
For both teams, that's going to be a year-long process, but there's no better way to make it happen than with a 1-0 record to start the season against a division rival. Presumably, this will point at which nearly every team in the NFL is at their healthiest.
There may be some rust, but this should be the moment at which we see what the Lions look like running at max potential. That means they need to not only win this game, but play well. Potentially dominate.
That positive momentum will do wonders for a team that now stands among the youngest and most inexperienced in the league. If the team can get solid production out of its rookies, then all the better. It just sets the tone for the next 15 games.