For a team like the Detroit Lions, who have a ton of talent and are looking for a rebound season, every single game on the schedule is important. Looking closely at the schedule, I have highlighted five games in particular that are important if the Lions want to call themselves a playoff contender. They don’t have to win them all, necessarily, but they may need to win at least three of them for a successful season.
Here are my non-scientific picks for top five in schedule order.
Week 1: Sept. 8 vs. Vikings
Winning in Week 1 would be very beneficial for the Lions for a number of reasons. They have won their last two season openers (technically should have been three if Calvin Johnson had “completed the process” in 2010), but it may be especially important because the early season schedule is very road-heavy. Following Week 1, Detroit plays four of the next five games on the road.
Lions’ fans know the Packers have tortured their team over the years, but the dominance of the Minnesota Vikings has been even greater. Minnesota leads the all-time series 68-33-2, even though Detroit won nine of the first 11 from 1961 to ’66. The Lions have managed to hold their own recently, winning three straight in the series in 2010-11, the first time they had done that since 1991-92. Prior to that, the Vikings had gone 21-3 against the Lions since 1998.
They went back to their losing ways in 2012, being swept in the season series, though they played well enough to win in each game.
Week 3: Sept. 22 at Redskins
Every year that the Lions play in the nation’s capital, we ask, “is this the year?” Is this the year they finally win in Washington D.C. for the first time ever? They are 0-21 in D.C. with the most recent loss in 2007, a 34-3 drubbing.
The ‘Skins and Lions have an interesting, albeit one-sided, series (12-30-0) filled with quirks. Washington has ended Detroit’s season three times in the postseason (including their only shot to get to a Super Bowl in 1991), but the Lions’ have won two straight in the series (including ending their 19-game losing streak in 2009).
Week 5: Oct. 6 at Packers
Just like winning in D.C. would be a real confidence boost, a win in Green Bay would give the Lions’ a real shot in the arm. We touched on this game last week. Even though it can be awfully embarrassing that the Lions have NEVER won in Washington, they don’t play there every year so don’t have as much chance to end that long losing streak as they do in Green Bay.
The Lions are 0-22 in Green Bay (and games in Milwaukee in 1993 and 1994) in 21 seasons since 1992. They’ve had chances to win there in the last two seasons but couldn’t get it done.
One could argue the Thanksgiving game with the Packers is equally or more important to win because the Lions haven’t won on Thanksgiving since 2003 (also against Green Bay). But I argue putting an end to the Green Bay streak is more important to the franchise, and winning this game might give them the confidence to win on Turkey Day and (gasp) sweep the Pack.
Week 6: Oct. 13 at Browns
There is nothing particularly remarkable about this game. Detroit has had its greatest success against Cleveland than any other team in the NFL, winning 14 of 18 games, including 5-3 in Cleveland. They have won two straight in the series and five out of the last six dating back to 1989.
If the Lions somehow manage to do the impossible and win in Green Bay, this could be a trap game against an inferior opponent while finishing up a stretch of mainly road games. Out of everyone on the schedule this year, the Browns are the one team you know for a fact that the Lions are better than, but if history tells us anything with this team and road games, all bets are off.
Simply put, this is a must-win situation no matter what happened the week before in Green Bay.
Week 15: Dec. 16 vs. Ravens
Detroit had five nationally televised games last season, and lost them all. They only have two this season, Thanksgiving and this Monday night game against the defending champion Baltimore Ravens. By all accounts, the Ravens got worse in the offseason, but no matter their record at that time, knocking off the defending champs on national TV can be a tremendous positive for Detroit, who has the knack of losing every time they are in the featured game.
An honorable mention for most important games is Oct. 20 against Cincinnati. This is purely for personal reasons.
Living in Florida, I rarely get to see the Lions play live. Because of games in Florida the last couple seasons (at Tampa in 2011, at Jacksonville in 2012), I was able to see them in person. This will be my first trip to Ford Field since the memorable comeback game against Cam Newton and the Panthers in 2011.
I can’t wait. Go Lions!