When is the last time the Detroit Lions had an “easy” schedule?
Every year, it seems, we decry the NFL for putting an impassible wall of a schedule before us. This year, that wall takes the form of the AFC East.
But then, how much of that is mere perception? Because we are (mostly) intelligent Lions fans, we know where we fall within the “good team/bad team” hierarchy, we understand: When you’re one of the worst teams in football, every schedule is full of teams that are better than you.
Note to the ones who predicted “playoffs” last year: You can stop reading now. I only write for those in the real world.
Note to Kevin Smith: I know you fit the bill above, but your heart was in the right place, so you and I are cool. Read on.
Anyway, it’s true once again the Lions have a number of games on the schedule that would make any fan smack their forehead in dread (the Patriots on Thanksgiving? Really?), but there are also a number of games that carry story lines that are visible from six months away.
The following is a prediction of those likely story lines (barring in-season stuff like playoff implications, injuries, MVP discussions, etc.), for every game on the Lions’ 2010 schedule, starting this week with Weeks One through Four.
Week One: Detroit Lions at Chicago Bears
“New Bear Julius Peppers to Give New-Look Lions’ Offense Early Test”
This one is easy. With the Bears making one of the biggest splashes with their “win now at all costs” signing of Peppers—the largest name in this year’s free agency class—the focus will be on how much impact he will have playing against the Lions’ historically suspect line.
There will also be a great deal of buzz surrounding the Lions’ first-round draftees, though it’s difficult to say whether Jahvid Best or Ndamukong Suh will have more attention on them.
Suh was the higher draft choice and is likely burdened with higher overall expectations, but Best plays a flashier position (in a flashier way).
In addition, the Bears defense has deteriorated from best in the league to mediocre—on a good day. In particular, the Bears rush defense ranked 29th in 2009, but with the Bears' reworked defensive line and the return of MLB Brian Urlacher, it’s no sure thing Best will have a flashy debut.
There is also the little matter of the Lions’ 19-game road losing streak, which they will take with them into Soldier Field.
Week Two: Philadelphia Eagles at Detroit Lions
“Ernie Sims “Excited” to Play His Former Team”
Maybe not exactly “excited,” but it’ll be one of those generic-type answers players give when the sports media asks them about playing their former team.
It comes a little sooner than usual for Sims, though. After being traded to the Eagles in mid-April, he will be up against the Lions in mid-September, only five months later. At Ford Field, no less.
Expect the reception to be warm, if a little apathetic. There’s no bad blood between Sims and the Lions (unless he makes some in the next four months), but he wasn’t a legend in Detroit, either.
Another angle on this game is that it’s the first game between the Eagles and Lions since 2007, in which the Eagles went on an offensive romp over the defensively hapless Lions, 56-21.
Of course, many things are different now, most notably the absence of the engineer behind those 56 points, Donovan McNabb. The Eagles really like Kevin Kolb, but it remains to be seen whether they still will after Week One.
Also missing is WR Kevin Curtis, who had more receptions (11), yards (221), and touchdowns (three) in that 2007 game than he did the entire 2009 season (6/77/0).
Curtis was released in March.
Week Three: Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings
“Lions Look to Snap 20-Game Road Losing Streak”
OR (If the Lions beat the Bears in Week One)
“Lions Facing Last Chance to Beat Brett Favre at Home?”
OR (If Favre doesn’t return/doesn’t play in Week 3)
“Lions Look to Snap 12-Game Metrodome Losing Streak”
That’s right. There are lots of scenarios that could arise from the Lions’ game against the Vikings, but one way or another, they all have to do with a losing streak.
It could be the biggest streak; the Lions’ road losing streak will stand at 20 if they don’t beat the Bears.
Or it could be the fact that the Lions have never beaten Brett Favre in his home stadium, be it Lambeau or the Metrodome (the Lions didn’t play Jet Favre at the Meadowlands).
And failing those two, there’s always the Metrodome losing streak, which dates back to the Barry Sanders days.
But then there’s that X-factor. I don’t know what it is. I can’t peg it. But despite the fact that the Lions have been by far the worst team in football over the last two years, and the fact the the Vikings have been the clear dominant team of the NFC North, they always play like evenly-matched, bitter division rivals.
Now, they ARE bitter division rivals, but they match up terribly. For years, every strength of the Vikings has matched up with a weakness of the Lions, and yet they go head-to-head like it’s a strength vs. strength matchup.
With that in mind, another storyline to look for is how the Lions’ brand-new defensive line handles Adrian Peterson, against whom they’ve done a good job with less talent. Peterson vs. the Lions front seven actually COULD be a strength vs. strength matchup this year.
Week Four: Detroit Lions at Green Bay Packers
“Aaron Rodgers Looks to Run Lions’ Lambeau Losing Streak to 19″
Look, I’m a little upset that two straight game storylines are about losing streaks, too. But journalists like big numbers, and double-digit losing streaks are big numbers.
And speaking of big numbers, that’s exactly what Aaron Rodgers’ stats are after he plays the Lions. Invariably, the Lions secondary gets picked apart by Rodgers, even in a sloppy game (like that hard-to-watch 26-0 debacle last season), and he has a career day.
Rodgers’s career low in passing yards against the Lions is 308, and that was at Lambeau Field during the last week of December. And in four total games against the Lions, Rodgers has 11 touchdown passes and only one interception.
This, despite the fact that the Lions sacked Rodgers five times in one of those games, owed mostly to the Packers’ depleted line giving up more sacks than any other team in 2009.
Because of that, one of the biggest questions in this game will be about the lines.
Detroit’s weak defensive line had some success against the Packers’ injury-ridden offensive line last year, and this year both units will be stronger. Green Bay’s line got healthy and added OT Bryan Bulaga in the draft. Detroit’s was completely rebuilt through a trade (Corey Williams), the draft (Ndamukong Suh) and free agency (Kyle Vanden Bosch).
On the flip side of the ball, the Lions have to be excited about not having to face Aaron Kampman twice a year.
Kampman was, during his tenure in Green Bay, generally good for at least two sacks a game against the Lions, but the Packers let him walk to Jacksonville in free agency, since the 4-3 defensive end didn’t fit the Packers’ new 3-4 scheme.
Check back next Thursday for Weeks Five to Nine, including possible story lines from the Lions’ bye week, and the inevitable story from the Lions/Jets game!