In 2011, the Detroit Lions exceeded the expectations of many, starting the season 5-0 and eventually making the playoffs for the first time in a long time. After the Lions’ first postseason appearance in 12 years, it is now my job to try and guess how this team will fare in 2012.
Detroit returns almost their entire roster, with the biggest departure being corner Eric Wright. Wright’s move to Tampa Bay leaves an already weak secondary even weaker, but that void will likely be filled by one of three rookies the Lions drafted at that position.
The Lions are a young team with high expectations coming into this year. The team’s core players are almost all under 30, but with last year’s playoff run, I can now classify the Lions as a team with experience.
This young and experienced team will now face the challenge of being a contending team. After winning ten games last year, the fans will expect even more out of the team in this year’s campaign.
The major broadcast networks will expect more as well: the Lions play four primetime games in 2012. Detroit will be featured twice on Sunday night and twice on Monday night just one year removed from their first Monday night appearance in over a decade.
The Lions’ schedule is naturally a tough one as the NFC North is one of the toughest divisions in football. The Packers, Lions, and Bears will all contend for the division title, with the Packers being the favorite.
Despite a tough division, Detroit will be trying to spoil Green Bay’s party.
Here is how I see Detroit’s season breaking down, home games in bold.
Week one: St Louis
The Lions start the 2012 season with the Rams, a team coming off a miserable 2011 campaign that saw only two wins. At home this should be an easy win and a confidence builder for
Will we see another heavyweight bout in San Fran?
Week two: San Francisco
The first primetime game on the Lions’ schedule is arguably their toughest of the season. Taking a trip to Candlestick Park in San Francisco was rough for opposing teams last year, as a week two overtime loss to Dallas was the 49ers only one at home. While the rematch between these two teams will no doubt draw a plethora of attention as well as a very well documented post game handshake, I don’t think the Lions win this one.
Week three: Tennessee
Detroit will go from San Francisco to Tennessee, a team that showed improvement last year, winning nine games. The Titans narrowly missed the playoffs at 9-7, and the Lions will have to bring their best game to win. I see more firepower on the Lions side of the ball, and the departure of DB Cortland Finnegan will hurt Tennessee this year.
Week four: Minnesota
The first meeting between these two teams last season provided more entertainment than Lions fans bargained for. Detroit came back from a 20-0 deficit to force overtime before winning in extra time. Minnesota is improving, but this game shouldn’t be as close as last year.
Week five: BYE
Week six: Philadelphia
This is one of the hardest games for me to pick on the schedule, simply because I have no idea what Philly will do this year. They have undisputed talent, but their discipline was lackluster a year ago and their defense worse. The Eagles seemed to come on late, winning their last four, including a 45-19 drubbing of the Jets as well as a 20-7 victory in Dallas. If we see good Philly, this becomes a tough game on the road. If we see bad Philly, this could be an easy win. Going by their track record from last year, I bet we see more bad than good.
Week seven: Chicago
The last time these two teams met, the game was the most physical one the Lions played in all year. A scuffle even broke out, and surprisingly Jim Schwartz wasn’t involved. All joking aside, the Lions got trounced in that game and left Chicago a bit broken. This is a tough game for Detroit, and Chicago will have a little extra motivation. This game is played on Monday night, and the last Monday night game between these two was a Detroit win.
Week eight: Seattle
The Seahawks were in disarray last year, going through quarterback issues galore all year. They were anemic on offense at times, but still managed a 7-9 record. While Seattle was able to scrap themselves into a few wins, the Lions are the more talented team, and at home they will win this one.
Week nine: Jacksonville
Sorry, but I don’t believe in Blaine Gabbert. This game is one the Lions have to take care of, but no road game should be overlooked. That said, the Lions will win this game.
Halfway home, and the Lions are sitting at 6-2.
Week ten: Minnesota
This game will be more interesting than most would expect. The Lions have done very poorly historically in the Metrodome, making every trip to the twin cities a nervous one. While I do think the Lions win this game, it could be made more interesting if the Vikings begin to hit their stride a bit by this point next season.
Week eleven: Green Bay
Like last year, Detroit and Green Bay will not meet for the first time until the season is into the latter stages. This week 11 matchup is a big one for both teams, as it will likely have a significant impact on the NFC North standings at the top. The bottom line is this: the Lions couldn’t get it done against the Packers last year and I still see the Packers as the superior team this year.
Week twelve: Houston
The Texans come calling this Thanksgiving, and a good Texan team at that. I don’t like to get into individual matchups too much, but Houston running back Arian Foster provides a big mismatch whenever he steps on the field. Against a run defense that was average at best last year, watch out for Foster to post big numbers. This game should be a shootout, and could go either way. If Matt Schaub is healthy, this Houston team is really good.
Week thirteen: Indianapolis
This is the only “easy” game for Detroit in their last seven of 2012. While rookie quarterback Andrew Luck is definitely the Colts’ franchise quarterback, he won’t lead them from 2-14 to the playoffs this year. The Lions will take care of business at Ford Field in this one.
Week fourteen: Green Bay
The Lions’ second Sunday night appearance will be at Lambeau Field, where the Packers were unbeaten in the regular season last year. By now, the Lions are fed up with losing to Green
Stafford will have to lead his team down a difficult home stretch
Bay, and a rivalry has already been born between these two teams. In rivalry games, matchups and home field are thrown out the window and replaced by physicality and desire. The team that wants it more wins these games, and both these teams will want (and need) this game. Green Bay’s veteran leadership gets them the win here.
Week fifteen: Arizona
At first glance, this game seems like one Detroit should win. While I think the Lions do win in the desert, be wary. The Cardinals have a talented offense that now includes WR Michael Floyd opposite All-Star Larry Fitzgerald. If Arizona can get a consistent performer at the quarterback position, they could be dangerous in 2012.
Week sixteen: Atlanta
Another intriguing rematch from a year ago, the Lions will no doubt be out for revenge in this Christmas edition of Monday Night Football (played on a Saturday). I view these two teams as evenly matched, with the Falcons holding the edge defensively and Detroit with an offensive advantage. Atlanta came into Ford Field and won last year, I would expect coach Shwartz to make it a point not to let that happen again.
Week seventeen: Chicago
The season finale between Chicago and Detroit may be a grand finale indeed. With two good teams that will most likely both be battling for a playoff spot, expect this to be a blood bath. I really can’t conclude what will happen in this game, but if both these teams stay healthy, expect it to be a very significant game to end the year. I took the Bears at their place, so it only seems fair I take the Lions at Ford Field.
Here we are at the end of the 2012 campaign, and according to me, Detroit has gone 11-5. Winning 11 games is very respectable in the tough NFC North, but the Lions should feast off of the games they have against considerably lesser teams (Indianapolis, St Louis, Jacksonville). There will definitely be games I get wrong, and the Lions could very well finish 8-8. I have them winning close games against Chicago, Atlanta, Tennessee, and Philadelphia that may well go the other way.
Then again, they could win every game I said they would lose.
Good thing they play the games.
Follow me on twitter @ScottPeceny
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