The Lions actually have expectations for the first time since Barry Sanders decided to call it a career in 1999. The offense is loaded with talent, led by quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Calvin Johnson, and the defense is getting better thanks to stud defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.
The Buccaneers were the biggest surprise of the 2010 season when they won 10 games and just missed the playoffs. Quarterback Josh Freeman is a dark horse MVP candidate, and LeGarrette Blount is a budding star at the running back position.
Where: Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida
When: Sunday, September 11 at 1 p.m. EST
Listen: 97.1 WXYT FM (Detroit); 103.5 WFUS, 620 AM WDAE (Tampa); Sirius Channel 128 (Detroit) and 94 (Tampa)
Betting Line: Buccaneers (-1)
What’s At Stake
It may only be a Week 1 game, but this is an important tilt for both these teams.
The Lions ended 2010 with a four-game winning streak. They ended their NFL record 26-game road losing streak by beating the Bucs last December.
But that was then and this is a new year. Both these teams need to start strong out of the gate just for morale purposes, but between these two teams I would say the Buccaneers need the win more than the Lions.
The Lions only have to contend with the Packers in the North. Granted, that is a tall task but it is easier to compete with one great team than it is to compete with two.
Lions’ Injury Report
Cornerback Alphonso Smith is going to miss the game with a fractured left foot that he suffered in the offseason. There is no definitive date for his return, but the team did not put him on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, believing that he will be able to return sooner rather than later.
Backup running back Maurice Morris has been dealing with a broken bone in his right hand for over a month but he is expected to be available in this game.
Buccaneers’ Injury Report
The Buccaneers were fortunate to make it through preseason and into the regular season without any injuries. Everyone will be available for this game.
Fantasy Start ‘Em
Josh Freeman had a breakout season in 2010 and big things are expected of him again in 2011. Fortunately, he is going up against a Lions' pass defense that will be without Alphonso Smith and at times last year seemed to fall asleep at the wheel.
Fantasy Sit ‘Em
The Lions have had a revolving door at running back since Mikel Leshoure tore his Achilles early in training camp. Jahvid Best has landed the starting job this week, but don’t expect big things from him even against a weak Tampa Bay run defense.
Best is a power running back, which plays right into the hands of the Tampa Bay defense because they are built more on power than speed. He is going to find yards to be at a premium on Sunday afternoon.
Titus Young was a second-round draft pick to the Lions in April and he has the potential to be an impact slot receiver right away. He has good size and speed, and with Calvin Johnson likely to command double teams, Matthew Stafford will be forced to look elsewhere. Young will be the beneficiary of the extra attention that Johnson is getting.
What They Are Saying
Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press broke down the Lions offense and found that the biggest question marks lie with the offensive line.
The Lions addressed most of last year's shortcomings through the draft and free agency, but they didn't tinker with an offensive line that has been under the microscope for years. All five starters return, though right tackle Gosder Cherilus is coming off December microfracture surgery and left tackle Jeff Backus missed most of training camp with an offseason chest injury.
Martin Fennelly of the Tampa Tribune wrote about Gerald McCoy, the defensive tackle who was taken one pick after Ndamukong Suh in the 2010 NFL Draft.
He (McCoy) thought of the last draft, the 2011 draft, when Alabama's Marcell Dareus went third and Auburn's Nick Fairley went 13th.
"The thing with Nick Fairley and Marcell Dareus is Marcell Dareus happened to go a lot higher than (Fairley), so that's why there's not really a tie …"
But McCoy and Suh …
"But we were like 2-3, oh, here we go, they were neck and neck, they played in the Big 12, they both wore 93 … Get over it."
We probably won't.
The real question is whether McCoy will find his own game this season.
He's feeling it, he says.
Lions’ Player To Watch
Calvin Johnson has been a star ever since he put on a Lions uniform, but this is the year that he takes the next step and becomes the best wide receiver in the NFL. That progression will start with a big game against the Bucs this Sunday.
Buccaneers’ Player To Watch
LeGarrette Blount emerged from the shadows in 2010 to have a fantastic rookie season. He had just over 1,000 yards with six rushing touchdowns while making some spectacular plays along the way, including hurdling over defenders.
The Lions’ strength on defense is the defensive line, so it will be important for the Bucs to establish the run early to open up the passing game.
We just talked about it: LeGarrette Blount has to have a big game against a very good Lions defensive front seven. If he can’t run the ball and the Bucs are forced to pass all game long, Ndamukong Suh is going to pick Josh Freeman apart.
The Lions may not have a deep secondary, but when you have a defensive line that can get after the quarterback you don’t need a good secondary to be effective against the pass.
In a close game between two of the better young teams in the NFL, the Lions are going to prove all their supporters right by putting on a great offensive display and a solid defensive performance.