Detroit Lions 2014 Schedule: Game-by-Game Predictions
The Detroit Lions are within days of their first game of the 2014 season, and I can't wait any longer to walk you through the schedule with a prediction for each game.
A fool's errand to be sure. There's no way to predict injuries or even the mental state of a team four months out.
But excuses are for the weak. Click through to find out exactly how each game will play out.
Week 1: New York Giants
The Lions' complete first-team offense hit a few bumps in its limited time together. Matthew Stafford was a little too Calvin Johnson-focused and wasn't playing the dutiful point guard who distributes to the open man.
Rookie offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi noticed this and settled his pupil down with a heavy dose of successful rushes and easy throws, and the offense got back on track.
To review, that means the Giants must come to Detroit on an opening Monday night game in what is sure to be a raucous stadium and perform against a front seven that hit its stride two weeks ago. Oh, and the guys trying to block Ndamukong Suh and company will be anchored by either a rookie (Weston Richburg) or a center who graded out as the fourth-worst center this preseason.
Eli Manning won't have time to make his famous face; he'll be too busy flicking away those tiny bits of black rubber from Ford Field.
Final: Detroit 34, New York 14
Week 2: At Carolina Panthers
The Carolina Panthers need their Superman to do his best to emulate his hero because there are a lot of questions outside of him on that offense.
A once-strong offensive line features a new left tackle and a rookie right guard. And the top receiver is either a raw rookie or Jerricho Cotchery.
Let's put it this way: If Detroit would have offered Kris Durham, the Panthers executives would have tripped over each other trying to get to the phone.
The front seven—much like Detroit's—could be enough to hide a thrown-together secondary. However, unless the $13.1 million backfield (excluding Cam Newton) can stretch out the defense, Carolina will have a hard time matching Detroit's output.
Calvin Johnson, by himself, is worth the winning margin here.
Score: Detroit 17, Carolina 10
Week 3: Green Bay Packers
When was the last time a Green Bay Packers quarterback didn't scare you? Even though Matt Flynn was horrendous on Thanksgiving Day last year, he's still the guy who torched the Lions for Packers single-game records of 480 yards and six touchdowns.
And Aaron Rodgers is atop that hierarchy of scary signal-callers.
He won't care about Detroit's fast-rising front seven. He was weened on the Bears defenses of the mid- to late-2000s. Plus, he'll be too busy shooting laser beams through the secondary to Jordy Nelson or discount-double-checking down to Randall Cobb and Eddie Lacy to care.
Green Bay's defense isn't nearly as scary as the offense, so Detroit will put up some points. It just won't be able to keep Clay Matthews and an early-in-the-season Julius Peppers at bay when Detroit has to sling the rock to keep up with the most successful insurance salesman in history.
The 1972 Miami Dolphins will officially scratch the 2014 Lions off their list here.
Score: Green Bay 35, Detroit 27
Week 4: At New York Jets
Detroit isn't escaping the first quarter of the season without a bad "Lions loss."
You know exactly the type of game I'm referring to. It's akin to Madden, when the game won't let you win regardless of how much better you are than the opponent. You're going to fumble or drop passes that your receivers have no business dropping.
Think the 2013 Tampa Bay game. Or even last year's loss to the Giants. Inexplicable.
And the New York Jets are the perfect team to pull it off.
The defensive front features the type of one-two punch that Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley were drafted to become. The difference is Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson have formed a wrecking crew that would have leveled Mount Olympus.
Detroit won't fall completely on its face. There will be sparks and runs where it seems the Lions will right themselves. Ultimately, the secondary will let them down, and Michael Vick (Let's get creative, people! We're predicting the future!) will cause a scramble to the fantasy waiver wire.
Score: New York 23, Lions 21
Week 5: Buffalo Bills
The Lions have enough veteran leadership, including the calming voice of head coach Jim Caldwell, to not lose complete sight of the forest for the trees.
I know that expression can be confusing. In this context, it means the team won't forget about the goal of the season (the forest) because of one bad loss (the tree).
Especially with home-field advantage, there isn't a scenario where the Buffalo Bills should leave with a win. EJ Manuel doesn't look like an NFL quarterback. Physically he might, but his accuracy and decision-making don't measure up to a consistent winner.
Throw in an angry front seven, and that should result in easy pickings for guys like DeAndre Levy.
The Bills do have a stout defensive front, but the running and screen game will create enough time for Matthew Stafford to poke holes in a Jairus Byrd-less secondary.
Score: Detroit 27, Buffalo 13
Week 6: At Minnesota Vikings
The Minnesota Vikings are a tough team to figure out. There are good young players present who need to grow and veteran journeymen (like Captain Munnerlyn) who can thrive in the right situation.
That situation hasn't arisen yet in Minnesota. More evidence is needed for the new era to dawn, and the Vikings are trusting a retread quarterback who was never that good to begin with.
Can Brian Robison and Everson Griffen thrive without a bona fide sackmaster like Jared Allen hogging the attention of the blockers? Can Anthony Barr get to the quarterback in his rookie year?
Can Matt Cassell be the leader the Vikings need against a tough schedule?
I'm not sold. And if Vegas is, I'll be testing the waters early and often in a chance to get a leg up.
Score: Detroit 28, Minnesota 20
Week 7: New Orleans Saints
The Lions have enough top-tier talent to beat any team in the league. Therefore, it's all going to come down to execution and injuries.
While the Lions made it through the preseason relatively unscathed, their execution on either side of the ball wasn't flawless. And to beat some of those elite squads, they will have to be operating at a nearly infallible level.
The New Orleans Saints are one such team.
Detroit's decent record up to this point ensures the crowd will be rocking, but crowd noise isn't going to be enough to knock Drew Brees off his game. And rest assured that Jimmy Graham will be ready to prove that Eric Ebron isn't worthy of the comparison that's been foisted upon the rookie.
Detroit will score, but putting up points at the same pace as Brees against a defense that has playmakers at each level will cause Stafford to revert a bit. It's a long season, and he's 26 years old. It won't be a perfect transition.
Score: New Orleans 42, Detroit 31
Week 8: At Atlanta Falcons
Appearing on Hard Knocks isn't indicative of much in terms of a team's success. It's a produced show that is trying to focus on the drama of a training camp, the intensity of a coach and the devastation of being cut.
It also illuminated that Ra'Shede Hageman is not adjusting that well to professional football.
He wasn't going to be a starter, but it drilled home how badly the Atlanta Falcons need to develop some defensive talent—particularly those who can get after the quarterback.
And top linebacker Sean Weatherspoon was featured as well because he'll be missing the whole season.
To recap, the team has a pair of decent defensive tackles, no pass-rushers and few linebackers of note. Matthew Stafford will have time to set up the passing game, which will stretch that defense out and open lanes for Reggie Bush to exploit.
That's not a good recipe for a team with its best red-zone threat retired. The Matt Ryan-led offense will be pretty good this year, but it's missing a cylinder that won't be replaced easily.
Score: Detroit 37, Atlanta 24
Record on Foreign Soil: Undefeated
Week 10: Miami Dolphins
I didn't screw up. Week 9 is Detroit's bye week. Settle down, trolls.
Speaking of jumping to conclusions, there's a lot of assuming occurring regarding Ryan Tannehill's supposed jump to decency. He did kick his production up to 24 touchdowns in 2013, but that was tempered by 17 interceptions.
And does anybody really trust his offensive line yet? There's a rookie starting at right tackle and not a single starter graded at an at least average level. These are the guys who are going to stop a surging Ziggy Ansah, a monetarily motivated Ndamukong Suh and the recently welcomed back Kyle Van Noy?
I don't think so.
Miami's defense will slow Detroit's offensive roll—just not enough to where Tannehill can cover the distance.
Score: Detroit 27, Miami 20
Week 11: At Arizona Cardinals
For the third straight year, Detroit detours to the desert. Neither trip has been very kind as the Lions have yet to carry-on a win to keep them entertained for the long flight home.
And if Arizona's linebacking corps were still intact, it might be another sad sulk home.
The once formidable defense will still have a good secondary, but there will be plenty of room to run and check down, which will allow Matthew Stafford to probe the back line. Eventually, he'll crack through, leaving Carson Palmer with the unenviable task of eluding Detroit's defensive line and whatever blitzers Teryl Austin feels like sending.
Score: Detroit 31, Arizona 24
Week 12: At New England Patriots
I'm not just following the 2013 season's blueprint. Last year, the Lions fell apart and lost to a few teams that were clearly inferior, including one that had given up on its coach. This year, the schedule is back-loaded with tough challenges.
And nobody would disagree that the New England Patriots are one of the toughest nuts to crack in the NFL.
All-Everything tight end Rob Gronkowski is back and presumably healthy, giving quarterback Tom Brady the type of red-zone weapon who can make the Pats offense unfair. With a decent stable of running backs and a defense that's better than you think—especially with the return of Vince Wilfork and addition of Darrelle Revis—the Lions are outmanned.
But they won't lay down. It'll be a statement game for the Lions, and they'll fight to the last whistle.
Unfortunately, this is one occasion where they won't measure up. Not in New England.
Score: New England 27, Detroit 21
Week 13: Chicago Bears
The Chicago Bears are going to be angry.
They spent their offseason spending wisely, bringing in Lamarr Houston and aged sackmaster Jared Allen to plug a few holes in a defense that was historically bad. Their arrival, and the drafting of cornerback Kyle Fuller, isn't enough to keep the Lions or Packers from putting up points, but it's enough to land a few body blows.
Coincidentally, that'll be enough for these Bears to succeed more often than not. The offense is ridiculously loaded at every skill position, and Matt Forte is the best running back who gets the least love.
Even at home, Detroit is going to struggle to match the Bears drive for drive. It'll come down to turnovers—as it often does—and I'm more inclined to trust Chicago than Detroit.
Score: Chicago 31, Detroit 24
Week 14: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
When the wheels came off the 2013 season, the loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was the nadir.
In 2014, the Bucs will provide the path back to respectability—and quite possibly the playoffs.
Head coach Lovie Smith isn't a miracle worker; he's a good coach. The amount of trust in Josh McCown seems a bit misplaced since he won't have all the pieces he had in Chicago, but he'll do a decent job.
That's what the Bucs will be in 2014—decent.
Decent won't beat a motivated Detroit team facing playoff extinction with a properly dispositioned coach. Jim Caldwell won't panic; he's seen it all. He'll get the Lions back on the same page, and Detroit will take down an opponent that can't match its skill level or point production.
Score: Detroit 34, Tampa Bay 20
Week 15: Minnesota Vikings
In many ways, this will be a must-win game for Detroit. The Lions finish the season on the road in Chicago and Green Bay, and there's little to no chance they can sweep those two.
That won't be the message from the locker room. The players and coaches will say all the right things about taking one game at a time and blah, blah, blah. We know the truth. So do they.
The team that takes the field in Week 15 will be focused on not letting another season slip away. It'll allow Detroit to overwhelm Minnesota with its talent.
The front seven will get after Teddy Bridgewater (who'll be starting by then), rattling him into at least a couple bad turnovers. Then the offense will turn those turnovers into touchdowns.
Basically, the team will do everything that a professional team is supposed to. It's been a long time since a Detroit team did anything of the sort.
Score: Detroit 24, Minnesota 17
Week 16: At Chicago Bears
If you didn't catch my drift on the first Chicago slide, the Bears are going to be a problem.
That offense will still be rolling. It'll also be used to the elements.
But the bear of it will be that defensive line.
Can Detroit handle the talent charged with attacking the quarterback? Will it be able to exploit the safeties when Matthew Stafford has Lamarr Houston and Jared Allen bearing down on him?
Maybe. And that's the best response to that question I can muster. Plus, playing two away division games to end the season doesn't translate well to an easy finish to the season.
Score: Chicago 24, Detroit 13
Week 17: At Green Bay Packers
With at least a playoff appearance likely on the line, Detroit has to travel to the frozen tundra, where it hasn't won since the Bush administration.
The father, that is.
And everything on the second Chicago slide applies here. Yet, this is finally the year Detroit breaks through.
Joique Bell will be the reason. He's built to wear down a defense in the elements late in the year.
The Packers aren't just banking on Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers to last an entire season; they're the only guys who can get after the quarterback. With little to no depth behind them, Detroit will ride Bell to just enough points to keep Aaron Rodgers at bay.
Score: Detroit 27, Green Bay 24