Remember when the Lions ended the season on a high note with a four game winning streak? Well, the NFL recognized that Tuesday night by rewarding the Lions a week five primetime matchup against the Bears. The great thing is the Lions won’t play in the Thursday or Sunday Night slot. Nope, The NFL gave them a Monday Night matchup at home! Usually you see the up and coming teams get a Sunday night game or a Thursday night game. But yesterday, the Lions were placed in the crème de la crème of NFL primetime.
The most important messages this sends is that the NFL believes Detroit is an improved team who’s in the initial stages of becoming a playoff team. Although this is tremendous news for the Lion fan base, it comes with a price tag. According to the NFL, the Lions have the 4th toughest schedule next season. Right out the gate they are tested on the road with a surely improved Josh Freeman led Buccaneer team. Followed by a week two matchup against a young yet talented Kansas City Chief team. Week four starts a tough stretch in the schedule where Detroit faces the Cowboys, Bears, 49ers, and Falcons in weeks four through seven. To finish the season the Lions face the Raiders, Chargers, and the Packers in weeks 15 through 17.
While the schedule looks to be a daunting task to compete with on paper, I’m fairly optimistic that Detroit can still improve in the win column. We beat Tampa Bay in an exciting finish, while playing many of our backups due to injuries. We should have beaten the Bears in week one but the “un-caught” TD pass by Calvin ended that game. We also stole a game from Green Bay with Drew Stanton at the helm. Looking ahead some “should win” games include: at least one of the Viking games, Panthers, and Broncos games.
Overall, I’m very pleased with how the schedule turned out. The Monday night game is a strong vow of support from the league that the Lion’s rebuilding process is actually working. If all goes well, we might even be flexed into another prime time game later on in the season. The 2011 season will be a true test as to how good the Lions really are. Playing a tough schedule will show the Lions if they are ready to compete now or if more pieces are needed to become a playoff team. I believe the Lions can be 9-7 at the end of the 2011 season. They might have a shot at a Wild card at 9-7. There is only one caveat with my prediction (as with everyone else’s 2011 Lion’s record prediction). The 9-7 record, with a chance at the playoffs, rides or dies on the shoulders of Matt Stafford. If he can stay healthy for the Lions for the entire year or even 90% of the year, it’s skies the limit. Otherwise, get ready for another dull and bland 6-10 Lions campaign filled with injuries, disappointment and unbearable frustration.