The Detroit Lions face the Minnesota Vikings Sunday carrying the burden of high expectations, something that they have not dealt with well in the past.
After a 2-0 start, the Detroit Lions were looking to gain a measure of respect around the NFL when they played host to the defending NFC champion Atlanta Falcons. You all watched- you all felt the heartbreak that I did when wide receiver Golden Tate was called dead at the 8-inch line and the clock was allowed to expire.
Though I felt a gut punch—as I am sure you did, fellow Lions fan—something amazing happened. The Lions exploded into national credibility. The USA Today power rankings shot the Lions all the way up to fourth- fourth– all the way up from tenth. After a loss!
But that’s what happens when you play tough, and you play all four quarters, and the nation feels like you were robbed by the officials in an amazingly close game.
Now comes the hard part.
In my lifetime, the Lions have rarely managed to play up to expectations. Many times they have played down- I’m thinking about the Season That Must Not Be Named—the season of the Dan Orlovsky safety and… that’s enough, I just can’t mention more.
There haven’t been expectations often in my forty years, and when there have been, the Lions have flopped. On their faces. Hard.
In 2013, under fire-brand coach Jim Schwartz, the Lions started 6-3 and had the inside track on the NFC North crown—even Aaron Rodgers was hurt! The division was all but a lock. Then came those expectations… and the Lions won one game the rest of the year, missing out on the playoffs and getting Schwartz fired.
The entire Wayne Fontes era—yes, the winningest coach in Lions’ history- pretty much follows this same format. Terrible one year, playoff bound the next; and then, with an improved roster the following season, Fontes’ team inevitably would collapse the following year.
Now- back to this year’s squad. After a loss this close to the Falcons, the Lions suddenly have people paying attention for something good. We are facing a really good Vikings team, lead by rookie running back Dalvin Cook and a ferocious defense that has given Matthew Stafford fits over the past few seasons.
It’s a similar matchup to the New York Giants game from two weeks ago, albeit with a better offense than the Giants have. We know that the Lions were able to move the ball against a great defense in that game, so they should have some chance of scoring a few points on Sunday.
The key will be the play of the defense.
As usual, defensive coordinator Teryl Austin’s squad has been playing far above their talent level. Rookie linebacker and stalwart Jarrad Davis was sorely missed last week, but it sounds like he plays this week. His presence will make a big difference for a defense that got gashed by the Falcon’s run game.
The thing leaning in the Lions favor the most? The Vikings are without their starting quarterback, Sam Bradford. Case Keenum has played admirably in his absence, but he’s a major downgrade for the purple and gold.
Since Bradford looks like he is out, I think that is enough to swing this game in the Lion’s favor. And a win in a game of this magnitude should keep the Detroit Lions in the nation’s favor moving forward. Lions, 27-21.