The NFL season might start on Sept. 10, when the Tennessee Titans face the Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field, but the story of opening weekend will be when the Detroit Lions face off against the Saints in New Orleans.
After completing the NFL's first 0-16 season in 2008, the Lions will have their hands full to prevent the 0-17 headline in media outlets come Monday.
The Lions have a lot to prove to their fans and to the rest of the league in 2009. The Matt Millen era is now over, so it's up to Tom Lewand and Martin Mayhew, along with head coach Jim Schwartz, to prove this is a different animal on the field.
The team's new logo and uniforms are a start at least at the ascetic level.
The team has already made some good moves on the field to show it wants to move past 0-16.
Every major position will see some new faces and attitudes that will hopefully lead to a better product on the turf. Probably the most important has the signing of linebacker Larry Foote. The two-time Super Bowl Champion Steeler and Wolverine is returning to Detroit to bring a Ray Lewis-type of intensity to the defense, which will hopefully spill over to the offense as well.
The drafting and signing of Matthew Stafford to the richest guaranteed deal in NFL history will put pressure on the staff to start him this season instead of Daunte Culpepper. However, having Scott Linehan as offensive coordinator, who coached Culpepper with the Vikings will quell such a rush to the future, regardless if Peyton Manning thinks Stafford is ready to start.
The team realistically will win games in 2009. Running back Kevin Smith did predict the playoffs on his Web site last week, but before one can run, one must win.
The team spent last season as well as the other years in the Millen era demonstrating that there is more than one way to lose a game. Therefore, 2009 will have to be a treatise on all the ways the Lions can win games.
To win games, the Lions will have to shed the lay-down-and-die manner they have played with in the past. They have to reestablish their identity not only to the rest of the NFL but to themselves in their locker room mirrors. It sounds corny to say they have to believe in themselves, but that is really the case.
Mistakes will be made this season, as there is a whole new coaching staff combined with a great deal of new players both in veterans and draftees. Chemistry will be an issue until a voice on defense and on offense will unify each side of the ball. Once such voices are established, a team will walk out of the tunnel each Sunday to prove to themselves that they may be the Lions, but they are also the LIONS!
The 2009 schedule, besides the home and home matchups of Bears, Packers, and Vikings, will also feature the Saints, Redskins, Steelers, Ravens, and Cardinals. All of these teams will be tough to face. The division rivals added the likes of Jay Cutler in Chicago, B.J. Raji and Clay Matthews in Green Bay, Percy Harvin in Minnesota, and possibly Brett Favre as well.
The non-conference foes will also be tough. The Saints' Drew Brees came close to the all-time single-season passing yards record last season. The Redskins added Albert Haynesworth to their defense. The Steelers are the defending champs, however Foote played for them so he should know a lot of their secrets. The Ravens played the Steelers in the AFC championship last season. The Cardinals played the Steelers last season in the Super Bowl and almost won.
To predict a win total for the Lions is a grasp at straws. They have the tools to play better, but the presence of newness everywhere might still lead to disaster. The best guess varies between five to eight wins.
The Lions have a lot to prove coming off an 0-16 season. But they have changed a great deal in how the team looks logo wise, presents itself at press conferences and handles drafts.
Come September, the Lions will have to change how they perform on the field.