Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Schedule Analysis: Breaking Down the Lions 2011 Opponents

We're day away from the beginning of Week 1 and so I think its more than acceptable to look at the Detroit Lions schedule and start pondering final records.  I'm not going to count wins, but rather categorize games by the likelihood of a Lions victory.

Much has been said about the difficulty of the Lions schedule this year, and there's a lot of truth to that, but when breaking down the schedule, you may be surprised to see how many of these games are not only winnable, but games that the Lions should win.

Should Wins:

Week 6 vs. SF
I can never really pin down the 49ers.  They always seem to have a great player or two, but always suffer from the same flaws, usually starting behind center.  They're just a team I never pay much attention to, and usually for good reason.  I have a friend who occasionally asks me how I think the 49ers will do this year, and I almost always answer, "I don't pay much attention to AFC teams", before realizing they're in the pathetic NFC West.

Frank Gore and Patrick Willis won't be enough this year.

Week 8 @ Denver
I watched a couple preseason games of the Broncos this year (mostly out of Tim Tebow curiosity) and I have to say, they look awful.  Their offense is uninspiring with Kyle Orton, Brandon Lloyd and Knowshon Moreno leading the charge.

Defensively, Denver has a couple solid pass-rushers in Elvis Dumerville and Von Miller, but not much beyond that.  Stafford stays upright, and the Lions run away with this one.

Week 9: Bye Week
Oh man, it's going to be so awesome when a friend of mine doesn't say to me, "Hey, at least the Lions didn't lose this week!" You suck, hypothetical friend.  I should stop hypothetically hanging out with you.

Week 11 vs. Carolina
Not going to spend a lot of time arguing this one.  The Panthers are one of the worst teams in the NFL and Cam Newton isn't going to make them much better.  It's unfortunate they were basically forced into drafting him.  The Lions need to make sure they win games like these with ease.

Week 14 vs. Minnesota
Minnesota no longer has that quarterback and that really may be enough reason to believe the Lions can sweep Minnesota this year.  They controlled the season finale against the Vikings last year, with Joe Webb as quarterback.  Unfortunately for Minnesota, that guy wasn't the only significant roster loss.  Perhaps just as devastating was the loss of Sidney Rice to free agency.  Even with Donovan Mcnabb behind center and Adrian Peterson in the backfield, the Viking's offense just isn't that intimidating.  They'll have a very tough time keeping up with the Lions offense.

Lions slight edge:

Week 1 @Tampa
Tampa is a team very much like the Lions.  A young, promising quarterback and a strong defensive line on the other side of the ball.  The two faced each other last year, with the Lions coming out on top in overtime.  There will be two major differences in this year's matchup: Matthew Stafford and Aqib Talib.  Both were sidelined due to injuries last year.

While the Bucs are definitely a team on the upswing, nothing about them blows me away.  Josh Freeman is a solid quarterback, but his biggest weapon isn't his harm, but his strength.  Last year, he avoided what could've been numerous sacks, but failed to kill the Lions with his arm.  The Bucs' running game was much more dangerous last year, but Detroit's improved linebackers should slow them down.

Week 3 @ Min
Minnesota's defense is still strong, which is why this game isn't a slam dunk.  It doesn't help that the Lions haven't won in the Metrodome since 1997.

Week 5 vs. Chicago
I believe the Lions are better than the Bears.  I really, really do.  The Bears' defense is likely better, as long as they can escape the injury bug, yet again.  And, say what you will about Mike Martz, I really think he's 10% "Mad" and 90% "Scientist".  But despite the fact that I think the Bears are a top-half-of-the-league team, when I picture this matchup I can only imagine of one thing: crushed Cutler.

Oh yeah, it's the Monday Night Football game, too.  Consider Hank Williams Jr.'s musical intro as your harmonious eulogy, Jay Cutler.

Week 15 @ Oakland
I will be attending this game, and while I expect to see my Lions come home with a win, I will likely spend the majority of my time focused on not getting shot or stabbed.

I'm very tempted to put this game under "should win", but Oakland is a team that deserves much better than all the jokes at their expense.  They actually have a pretty solid foundation of a team, but lack the superstars to put them in the elite of the league. Darren McFadden is on his way, but not there yet.  Obviously, the Lions benefit HUGE from the loss of Nnamdi Asomugha, but the Raiders still have talent on defense in Kamerion Wimbley and Richard Seymour.  Still, a loss here would be a disappointment.


Week 2 vs. KC
Kansas City is one of those teams that you forget went 10-6 and won their division over San Diego last year. Matt Cassel took a big step in development after a disappointing 2009 season.  Unfortunately for him, he will be taking orders from his third offensive coordinator in as many years.  He still has Dwayne Bowe and Jamaal Charles with him, and that's enough to be somewhat fearful of KC's offense

If there's a team that can slow down Detroit's electric offense, it just may be the Chiefs.  They bolster a strong, young defensive line and have a great cornerback duo playing behind them: Brandon Flowers and Brandon Car.

Week 4 @ Dal
Some may be surprised to see a team that played so poorly in 2010 in the toss-up category.  But let's not forget that this Cowboys team was one of the few teams that beat Detroit pretty handily last year.  Dallas' offense may be just as potent as the Lions this year, especially when Tony Romo is behind center. Plus Dallas has DeMarcus Ware, who should send chills down every Lions' fans shoulder at mere mention of his name.

Week 10 @ Chicago
As I said earlier, I think the Lions are a better team, but a November game at Soldier Field is a crap-shoot*.  The Lions will likely be playing on a surface similar to a sponge after it's been used on Najeh Davenport's apartment.

Lions Slight Underdog:
Week 7 vs. ATL
I have had constant nightmares of the Atlanta offense ever since they destroyed the Lions 2008 season seven minutes into week one. After the first quarter was tainted by a 62-yard pass TD and a 66-yard rush TD, the other three quarters and the following 15 losses were just a blur.

Atlanta hasn't really slowed down since.  Matt Ryan remains a top-10 quarterback, though he wasn't absolutely dominant last year.  Many analysts are using the cliche "The Falcons are going 'all in' this year".  Most of this speculation is due to the fact they spent multiple draft picks to get rookie WR Julius Jones. Indeed, Jones paired with Roddy White combine to make a potentially insane duo.

Atlanta also went big on the defensive side of the ball, swiping up DE Ray Edwards from free agency.  I do see this team vastly improved from their 2010 season, but I'm not sure I see them making a Super Bowl run.

Week 12 vs. GB
Not much to this one.  When you put the two teams' rosters side-by-side, there is no question Green Bay has more talent.  Stafford and Calvin are countered with Rodgers and Jennings.  Detroit's elite pass rush is matched by a Green Bay team that had three more sacks than them last year.  And there's no comparing the two teams' secondary.

But Detroit hung with them in both contests last year and there's no denying the Lions are better this year.  Should be a great two-game series.

Week 16 vs. SD
I might be showing my homerism here by not placing this in the "should lose" category.  Though they didn't make the playoffs last year, the Chargers were first in offensive yards, and first in yards allowed.  They found some truly inspiring ways to lose games last year.  I personally witnessed their meltdown against the Patriots, and I'm still convinced the guy that works the scoreboard added some points to the Patriots while no one was looking.

San Diego is one of the best teams in the league, but this'll be a great chance for the Lions to show how much better they've become since the last time the two played and the Lions got thoroughly embarassed.

Should lose:
Week 13 @NO
I like the Saints this year.  A lot.  They rid themselves of players that they're likely better without (Jeremy Shockey, Reggie Bush) and added players who will no doubt add strength to the team's previous weaknesses (Shaun Rogers, Mark Ingram).  By the way, if you don't think Shaun Rogers still has it, please watch this, then immediately send your condolences to the Boller family.

Throw in Drew Brees, Sean Peyton and one of the toughest venues in the NFL and you've got yourself a steady climb.

Week 17 @GB
Above analysis plus no wins in Lambeau since 1991 equals a likely loss. Good news is this will either be a meaningless game for the Packers or the most important game the Lions have played in over a decade.

The outlooks is surprisingly bright, and records like 11-5 and 10-6 are definitely not out of the question.  However, with the amount of luck involved in winning an NFL game, I could easily see the record going in the other direction, with 7-9 just as likely.  The one thing that I am certain of, however, is that the Lions will be in every game they play this season.  The same can't be said for their opponents.


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