The Detroit Lions have expectations of reaching the playoffs this year. Team president Tom Lewand has said more than once that he believes the Lions are good enough to win the Super Bowl this year. There is a long way to go with the draft still ahead of us and the inevitable injuries during preseason and a few free agents that will be signed, but I thought I would take an opportunity to take another look at the Lions schedule and their chances at this point.
The NFL schedule makers have yet to release the actual schedule, though we as Lions fans know at least that the Lions play the Falcons in Wembley Stadium in London on October 26th. It has also been leaked via the Buffalo Bills website that the Bills will visit the Lions on Thanksgiving day. While we don’t know the actual dates we do know the actual opponents.
At Ford Field, the Lions play their division opponents Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears. In addition to these annual matches the other home games are against the New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New York Giants, Miami Dolphins and the aforementioned Bills. For the Lions to have any hopes of making the playoffs they need to win at least six of these games.
I found it doubtful that the Lions will be able to be successful against the Saints. Offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi just came over from the Saints though and the he might be able to give the Lions a slight competitive advantage in this one. The Saints are the strongest opponent on this schedule and if the Lions are heading to the big game, this matchup will be a sign of that. Tampa Bay is very beatable, I believe Eli Manning has slipped and may continue that downward spiral this year. The Dolphins are a team in chaos with the bullying scandal last year and the impact it has had on their offensive line. The Bills quarterback situation is shaky at best, and while former Lions head coach Jim Schwartz is now their defensive coordinator in Buffalo, the offense is the big question there and with the game at Ford Field, the Lions should easily handle them. The Vikings, Packers and Bears are not that strong that the Lions should be able to beat at least two of them in the home matches. Reaching 6-2 on this home schedule is very accomplishable, and honestly the Lions would be falling short of their expectations if they don’t do that. Unfortunately as Lions fans, that is something we are far to used to.
Then there is the road schedule. It is a bit more daunting. In addition to the Packers, Vikings and Bears, the Lions face the New England Patriots, Carolina Panthers, New York Jets, Arizona Cardinals and the Falcons(in London though.) Just as the division opponents should be somewhat beatable at home, they will be tougher on the road. The best bet is that the Lions go 1-2 in those three games, with the Vikings game the best shot the Lions have at that win is against the Vikings. The Jets, like the Bills, have a very unstable quarterback situation, despite the signing of Michael Vick. The newly acquired Chris Johnson should help the Jets cause, but honestly both Vick and Johnson are well past their primes and feel like desperation moves to me. The Panthers were the story of the year last year, and then promptly dismantled their relatively weak offense. The defense should be strong enough to give the Lions a tough game, but, if the Lions are who Lewand and coach Jim Caldwell think they are, the Lions have to win this game. It will be very tough to beat the Patriots in New England. It’s tough to beat them anywhere. As long Tom Brady is behind the center, this is likely a loss. That leaves the Lions 3-3 on the road to this point, so the tipping point comes in the other two games.
The Falcons were awful last year, but don’t forget how strong they’ve been since Matt Ryan began his career there. They were torn up by injuries last year. It will be tough to tell if 2013 was a fluke, or if the Falcons have fallen far enough to be taken. I think it works to the Lions advantage that this game is on a neutral site and so the Lions have to win this game. They have to. The Cardinals were far better than expected last year and Carson Palmer led them much further than most would have predicted. Palmer is yet another year older and hopefully that works in the Lions favor. The thought that the Lions could up 5-3 on the road almost brings a light to the end of the tunnel. It could even signal their first NFC North division title ever.
If the Lions end up with an 11-5 overall record, maybe Lewand won’t sound crazy. Once the playoffs start, anything can happen. Like I said, there’s still a long way to go with this offseason and the draft looms large. Breaking down the schedule quickly though makes things feel a little more hopeful on this spring day.