Detroit Lions 2011 Schedule: First Game at Bucs Will Determine Season Outlook

Andrew KulhaSenior Analyst IIIJuly 26, 2011

TAMPA, FL - DECEMBER 19:  Receiver Calvin Johnson #81 of the Detroit Lions stretches for additional yardage as safety Corey Lynch #41 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers tackles him during the game at Raymond James Stadium on December 19, 2010 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
J. Meric/Getty Images

The NFL lockout has finally lifted and we are officially back in business!

As I’m sure you have figured out by now, it’s time to start breaking down the roster, looking at free agents and determining how teams are going to end up looking by the first kickoff.

Free agency has opened up in a limited format at the moment, but soon it will be an all-out frenzy. Eventually, as soon as the beginning of next week even, we should have a good idea what the 2011 Detroit Lions are going to look like.

Lions’ fans are obviously beyond excited for this season, and if you don’t believe me just go ask one what they feel about the 2011 season.

The optimism is brewing after a strong finish to last season, a draft that brought it some more young talent, and a coaching staff and front office that fans finally have some faith in.

For all intense and purposes things are starting to look up for the Detroit Lions, for the first time in a very long time.

All this optimism and momentum heading into the season could be destroyed very quickly though.

I believe that the Lions first game of the regular season will be the most important game, and the outcome of it will actually determine if the Lions succeed or fail in 2011.

Fair warning: based on predictions and from what I can see, failure for the 2011 Detroit Lions will be not competing for a playoff spot, most realistically the Wild Card.

I think we can all agree that is a fair assessment, but let’s get back to game one.

The Lions first game of the 2011 season is on Sunday, September 11th at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Why is this first game so important you ask?

First, the Lions got the “not winning on the road monkey” off their back at the end of last season, so imagine how huge it would be to hit the road right off the bat and essentially prove to all the doubters that the last few games of 2010 were not fluke wins.

If you want to look deeper into this, I urge you to think for a second about the Buccaneers.

The 2010 ‘Bucs were the team that the Lions want to be this season, except the Lions want to make the playoffs obviously.

They have a tremendous young quarterback in Josh Freeman with solid offensive pieces around him. Their defense is young, and is growing into an explosive unit. Their draft was so heavy on talented defensive players that I think they actually may have one of the best units in the league this year.

DETROIT , MI - NOVEMBER 26:  Matthew Stafford #9 of the Detroit Lions looks to throw a fourth quarter pass while playing the Green Bay Packers on November 26, 2009 at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan. Green Bay won the game 34-12. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Sounds a whole lot like the Detroit Lions right?

Looking at the NFC this season the Buccaneers will probably be the team that the Lions will compare the closest too, and they will probably be the team that the Lions have to fight to get into the playoffs.

A win would go a long way in establishing the team right off the bat, and proving to the league and to themselves that they are ready to make that next step.

Tampa Bay is trying to do the same exact thing, so who better to play for the first game of the season?

On the flip side of the coin keep in mind that a loss to Tampa could actually be the most damaging loss of the season though.

Need more proof?

Fluke loss or not, how much different would the 2010 Lions season be if they were able to get a legitimate win on the board against the Bears in week one?

Instead of beating themselves, the Lions have a chance to beat a team that might only remind them of themselves.

How refreshing of a change would that be, and how big of a statement would that make?

You know what they say about first impressions…

They are lasting.

Follow Andrew on Twitter: @AKonSports