BY RICKY LINDSAY, Staff Writer
The Detroit Lions are heading into the 2012 season looking to continue their success from the previous year. In 2011, the Lions made the playoffs for the first time in over 10 years. Along the way, Calvin Johnson became one of the best wide receivers in the NFL, and Matthew Stafford finally lived up to the hype of being number one overall draft pick.
After rising up from the bottom of the NFL, the Lions have a chance to join the NFL’s elite. This season has great potential, but dreams could come to a halt for several reasons.
The offseason arrests and oncoming suspensions will hurt the Lions. Running back Mikel Leshoure will sit the first two games of the regular season, while Nick Fairley’s suspension length is still unknown.
The running back position is a huge cause for concern. Along with Leshoure’s suspension and lack of playing time will hurt the team early, he has shown signs of growth throughout the preseason. Jahvid Best, the starting running back last year, is on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list to start the year, and will have to miss the first six games of the season.
Serious questions surround the team this year. Can Stafford stay healthy and build off of a career year in 2011? Can Johnson avoid the “Madden Curse” while living up to the hype with his Megatron nickname? Will the running game take the pressure off of the passing game? All of these are legitimate concerns that Lions’ fans having heading into this season.
The Lions kick off their season at Ford Field against the St. Louis Rams, featuring a quarterback battle between two former number one overall picks.
Then the Lions hit the road for two games against the San Francisco 49ers and Tennessee Titans. The game against the 49ers is a rematch of “The Handshake” and could possibly be a playoff preview. The Titans ground attack could pose a challenge for the Lions run defense.
The Lions return home for one game against the Minnesota Vikings to close out September. The Vikings are trying to rebuild around running back Adrian Peterson and quarterback Christian Ponder, so it should prove to be an easy game.
After a bye week, the Lions travel to Philadelphia and Chicago to start October. The Eagles are looking to improve on a disappointing 2011 season, and the Bears have revamped their offense for quarterback Jay Cutler. Also note that the Bears game will be live on Monday Night Football on ESPN.
October ends with the new-look Seattle Seahawks coming to Ford Field. The Seahawks are looking to make some noise in the weak NFC West under newly-named starting quarterback, Russell Wilson.
November opens up with road trips to Jacksonville and Minnesota. The Jaguars are in a rebuilding mode and are expected to struggle this season.
The Lions return home for three games against the Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans, and Indianapolis Colts. All three teams have improved in the offseason and could damper the home stand for the Lions if they aren’t prepared.
The Packers are expected to win the NFC North. The Texans expect to compete for a playoff spot, and the fans will get to see quarterback Andrew Luck with the Colts, the number one overall pick this year.
December features road games in two different climates. The Lions travel to Green Bay and Phoenix to play the Packers and Arizona Cardinals. The Packers are excellent on their home turf in the winter, and the Cardinals have improved with their young stars. The Lions haven’t won at Lambeau Field since 1992. The Packers-Lions game can be seen live on Sunday Night Football on NBC.
The Lions end their season with home games against the Atlanta Falcons and Chicago Bears. If the season plays out as it should, these games will have high expectations with a playoff berth on the line. The Falcons-Lions game can be seen live on ESPN for “Monday Night Football,” even though the game will be on Saturday. (Christmas Eve is on Monday).
To make the playoffs, the Lions will need contributions from key players and positions. The running backs have to step up to take the load off of Stafford and the passing game. Kevin Smith should see significant playing time, but he isn’t the long term answer.
The Lions need to figure out the number two cornerback after Chris Houston, although that spot is expected to go to rookie Bill Bentley. Bentley has earned his keep with a strong preseason.
Wide receiver Titus Young will also have a huge impact on the Lions this year. Young should take pressure off of Johnson as the number two receiver.
The Lions head into 2012 with the hope of joining the NFL’s elite teams. On paper, they look like an 11 win team with a playoff appearance. As long as they stay out of the media spotlight (in a bad way) and perform in big games, this team should be a Wild Card team heading into the playoffs.
One thing’s for sure, the Lions will be one of the most exciting teams they’ve put on the field, with the likes of Johnson, Stafford, Ndamukong Suh, and coach Jim Schwartz with his signature fist pump. Go Lions!