Thanks to a divisional rotation, very little of the NFL schedule is dependent on the outcome of the previous year. Even so, the Lions list of 2012 opponents won’t be finalized until Sunday.
We already know that six of the Lions 16 games will be played within the NFC North. Another eight will come as a result of the division rotation. Each year and entire division is matched against one division in the AFC and one in the NFC. This year the Lions and the rest of the NFC North played every team in the AFC West and NFC South. Next year, the NFC North is matched with the AFC South and the NFC West. That means we know 14 of the Lions’ 16 2012 opponents just based on the fact they play in the NFC North:
Chicago Bears (x2)
Green Bay Packers (x2)
Minnesota Vikings (x2)
St. Louis Rams
San Francisco 49ers
The last two games are determined by matching teams with intra-conference opponents that finished in the same place in their division and do not already appear on the schedule. The Lions are locked into second place in the NFC North so their 2012 opponent list will be completed by the runner-up in the NFC South and NFC East. The Atlanta Falcons will finish in second place in the NFC South no matter what happens on Sunday so they will officially be on the Lions schedule next season.
The NFC East opponent is the last to be determined and there are two games that could come into play on Sunday. The Giants host the Cowboys in what amounts to an NFC East championship game. The winner will host a game in the Wild Card round the following week (and add the Packers to their 2012 schedule) while the loser can start their draft board. The team that winds up on the Lions 2012 schedule could be the Cowboys-Giants loser or the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles hold tie-breakers over both teams so a win over the Redskins on Sunday bumps them up to second place in the NFC East and onto the Lions schedule next year.
While the opponent list is correct, unverified information says the Lions’ opponents in 2012 would look something like this:
Green Bay Packers
San Francisco 49ers