Ah yes, the opening day of the 2012 NFL football season is set for Sunday, and to Lions fans, perhaps the year that lies ahead figured to be the most promising season we've been offered in decades.
ESPN has the Lions ranked 12th in the power rankings to start off the season. That's not a bad place to be, even though I do feel that they are a top-10 team. Other organizations are all over the map with their projections:
Pete Prisco of CBS Sports rates the Lions at No. 15.
Walter Football has them rated at a surprising No. 6 as of August 29th.
Elliott Harrison of NFL.com and NFL Network has our boys at No. 15.
Brian Billick at Fox Sports ranks the Lions at No. 10.
There is a consensus that since the Chicago Bears acquired Brandon Marshall, that made them the better team. I'm not so sure that one player can make that kind of impact but I will say, on paper, the Lions and the Bears are pretty evenly matched. And since I am a Detroit Lions fan, I have to give the nod to the Lions based on our defensive line.
What I hope to see from this year's Lions squad is not taking any games for granted, starting with the St. Louis Rams. Yes, the Rams were 2-14 last season, and yes, the Rams were one of the worst teams in the NFL, but Jeff Fisher is the coach now and the Rams are going to be well-prepared.
It's games like these where the Lions can get into trouble. If the Lions come out flat, this Rams team is just waiting in the weeds to take advantage of that. However, over the past two years, Jim Schwartz has done well in keeping the Lions prepared. If there is anything Schwartz learned from his mentor while with the Titans, it was preparation.
Here are a few other key games for Detroit:
9/16 at San Francisco - I imagine there will be one or two articles about the confrontation between head coach Jim Harbaugh and Jim Schwartz. My advice? Forget about it. This is going to be one of the more physical games the Lions will play.
10/22 at Chicago - All the questions will be answered after this game as to which is the better team. Just kidding, but it will be a pretty good indicator as to how these teams will match up. If Detroit can get to Cutler and rattle his cage, having Marshall out there won't make much of a difference. Either way, I don't see much more than a field goal separating these teams.
10/28 vs. Seattle - Pete Carroll has put together a pretty good team out here in the Great Northwest. Defense will be key and the two corners for the Seahawks, Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman, are the tallest in the NFL at 6'4" and 6'3", respectively. Both are physical and just may give Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson a difficult time. While Russell Wilson is currently the starter, if he falters, the Hawks have Lion killer Matt Flynn waiting in the wings.
11/22 vs. Houston - Huge game for the Lions. It will be Thanksgiving, and the Lions will be playing a top-ranked team, so the Lions should view this as a "must win" regardless of the record.
12/9 at Green Bay - At some point, the Lions are going to win at Lambeau Field, as the Packers have had the Lions number at Lambeau for the past 20 years. With this being the most talented Lions team to date, this year is perhaps the best time to win. The Lions could be 8-4 at this point in the season. A win at Lambeau could spark the Lions to run the table and finish at 12-4, matching their best start since 1995. A win could pretty much guarantee at least one home playoff game. Is that wishful thinking? Perhaps. But hey, it could happen!
12/30 vs. Chicago - The Bears could play spoiler here, which is a role they relish. Wherever the Lions are record wise, Schwartz has to make the Lions the more prepared team. Whether it's to finish out a possible disappointing season, getting into the playoffs by the skin of their teeth or tuning up for a playoff run, this is a must win game. It will be a statement game to let the NFC North know that the Lions are going to be a team to reckon with for years to come.
It's going to be a fun season!