5 Games That Will Define the Detroit Lions' 2011 Season
The Detroit Lions recorded their 10th consecutive losing campaign in 2010, but finished the season with momentum, courtesy of a four game win streak.
With one of the league’s toughest schedules in 2011, Detroit will be tested early.
Throughout every great team's regular season schedule, there are a multitude of significantly influential moments that define a team’s image in making a push for the playoffs. These moments establish a team’s worth in terms of competitive value and perseverance.
Lions head coach Jim Schwartz has been adamant in vocalizing his firm belief that the Lions are “right there” in terms of contention. As far as establishing a team identity, Schwartz believes that Detroit is already a competitive, multifaceted threat week in and week out.
"I think that we're well on our way to being the multidimensional team that we envision that we want to be." said Schwartz at a Lions press conference on January 3rd. "You'll see in the playoffs that the teams that last are the teams that are multidimensional, that aren't one-trick ponies because one-trick ponies are easier to shut down."
Every moment in every game is significant to the growth of a young Detroit Lions team looking to establish themselves as perennial contenders.
The 2011 regular season will feature five games that will define Jim Schwartz and the Detroit Lions as they make their glorious return to the postseason.
Week 1: At Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Detroit must make an immediate impact. So much of a team’s identity is determined on the opening day of the season.
Detroit hasn’t opened the season with a victory since 2007. A victory against a strong Bucs team would send a clear message to the rest of the league that the Detroit Lions have established a dominant ”take by force” mentality.
The Lions play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a mirror image of Detroit in the NFC South. The Buccaneers, like the Lions, have stockpiled young talent and are on the verge of explosion.
Tampa Bay will look to avenge a 23-20 Week 15 overtime loss at the hands of the Lions, in which Detroit snapped its NFL-record 26-game road losing streak. The win, a week after a victory over the eventual Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers, also gave Detroit its first set of back to back wins since 2007.
Week 2: Versus Kansas City Chiefs
The Week Two affair between the Lions and Chiefs signifies Detroit’s first real test against a prolific offense capable of scoring from anywhere on the field. Former Kansas City and current Detroit defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham will have his hands full.
Kansas City's running back tandem of Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones is one of the more productive running back combinations in the NFL. Ndamukong Suh and company will have their hands full up front. Jamaal Charles closely resembles former Detroit Lions running back Barry Sanders in his ability to attack the defense with speed and elusiveness while maintaining a low center of gravity.
The Week Two contest also represents a real test for the Lions' secondary. Matt Cassel and Dwayne Bowe established themselves as one of the league's premiere quarterback/wide receiver tandems in 2010. The selection of former Pittsburgh wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin in the first round of April's NFL Draft is proof of Kansas City’s desire to put points on the board in 2011.
In defeating the Chiefs, the Lions will have taken down a 2010 playoff team that finished the regular season with a respectable 10-6 record. A Week Two victory would be a great omen for the Lions.
Week 5: Versus Chicago Bears
I have written a complete article on the significance of the Week Five game versus the Bears on Monday Night Football.
The NFC North showdown between the Chicago Bears and the Detroit Lions on Monday Night Football will be Detroit’s first appearance on Monday Night Football in over a decade.
As former Arizona Cardinals head coach Dennis Green once famously said, “They are who we thought they were.” The Lions-Bears rivalry is one of the fiercest and longest-standing rivalries in the history of the National Football League.
Unfortunately, Detroit has failed to beat Chicago in each of the last three regular seasons.
If the Lions intend on defeating the Bears at Ford Field, they must establish a strong run game early against a Chicago defense that historically boasts one of the best defenses in the NFC North year in and year out.
This will be the nation’s first real glimpse of the Silver Crush; Detroit WILL NOT disappoint.
Week 12: Versus Green Bay Packers
Thanksgiving Day will be the first time Detroit faces off against the defending Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers in 2011.
In terms of wins and losses, Detroit split with Green Bay in 2010.
Detroit’s Week 14 victory against the Packers in 2010 marked the first time the Lions had beaten Green Bay since 2005, snapping a 10-game losing streak against their rivals from Wisconsin. The win was also Detroit’s first NFC North win since 2007, ending a 19-game losing streak against division foes.
For Lions fans, the traditional sanctity of a Thanksgiving Day victory is paramount to individual self worth.
Detroit must defeat the Packers in Week 12 if they intend on dethroning the defending champs en route to the coveted NFC North crown.
Essentially, this game is a playoff game taking place in the regular season.
Week 17: At Green Bay Packers
The lure of prime time excitement has made the Week 5 Monday Night Football game against the Chicago Bears an impulse pick by many Detroit Lions fans as the game to watch.
But it is Detroit’s Week 17 finale against the Green Bay Packers that is the real game to watch.
This is where all speculations and projections are laid to rest.
It’s Lions versus Packers at Lambeau, in what could end up becoming a makeshift NFC North Championship game. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Is this the year Detroit legitimizes themselves as an NFC power?