It's here! It's finally here! My first game preview of the 2013 NFL season is here! Sure, then on Sunday the actual game happens, which is OK, I guess, but let's focus on what really matters for now. The Lions play their first game of the regular season on Sunday at home against the Minnesota Vikings. Right off the bat, this is a very intriguing game for Detroit.
Last year, the Lions really disappointed, but they were also quite unlucky. That's why a bounce back is expected. They probably won't be so unlucky again. They will recover more fumbles. They will have a better record in close games. Their record will be more in line with their point differential. However, I still predicted they would go 7-9 this year. Of course, that doesn't take into account luck. That's just observation of Detroit's roster and their schedule and what I think will happen in an abstract sense. I can't take bounces or injuries into account, of course. Just a little fortune could turn 7-9 into 9-7 and a playoff spot. If that is going to happen, however, a win at home against the Vikings may be a necessity.
Detroit and Minnesota are divisional rivals, and seem likely to be fighting for positioning in the NFC North, and perhaps for a playoff spot. While Detroit is likely to improve based on a variety of factors, Minnesota will likely see their play dip a bit. Adrian Peterson is great, but he won't be as good as he was last year. They don't have Percy Harvin. Christian Ponder is not a good quarterback. They may be relying on young, unproven players to some degree. Then again, so will the Lions.
In addition to veterans like Reggie Bush and Glover Quin, the Lions are going to see rookies and other young players in key roles. Just look at that new offensive line. This week, Riley Reiff will have to try and keep Jared Allen at bay. Good luck at that. Bush had a poor preseason, but at least Joique Bell is around. Also, Calvin Johnson is around, and while he missed a lot of the preseason, he should be fine for this game. Detroit should be able to throw on the Vikings, and we know the Lions love to throw the ball. How will Stafford look in this game? Who will step up alongside Johnson? Fortunately, Bush and Bell are good safety valves if the Vikings do get pressure on Stafford.
I think Detroit's offense will be fine. The defense is more intriguing. Fortunately, it seems both Louis Delmas and Ziggy Ansah will be able to play. I don't know how much impact Ansah will have. He is raw and missed a lot of preseason. Plus, guys like Jason Jones and Israel Idonije are known as run stopping defensive ends. Against a team with Peterson, it makes sense to use them a bit more than guys like Ansah and Willie Young. The fact Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley are very good at getting pressure helps too.
I am not concerned about Ponder or Minnesota's passing game, but that is in part because Delmas is healthy. This defense is so much better with him on the field. The addition of guys like Quin and Darius Slay helps too. I am curious about Detroit's secondary, but this isn't likely going to be much of a test for them. That will come later. It will be more important that Delmas and Quin and company help in the run.
Talent wise, I think this game is fairly close. Detroit is healthy, which is good, and definitely helps. I am slightly concerned about both sides of the ball, but not to any terrible degree. We know Stafford is good and that Johnson is great. We don't know much of anything about this offensive line, however. We know that Peterson is hard to stop. Can Detroit stop him? Or at least keep him from running for 200 yards or something wild like that? Also, everybody likes to mention the Lions taking penalties and not being disciplined and stuff too, so I probably have to bring that up, lest I get chastised.
I am giving the slightest edge to Detroit in this game. The fact they are at home helps, of course. Both teams have adjustments to make, but I think the Lions are a smidgen better and have Ford Field on their side. Detroit starts their season at 1:00 PM Eastern at home against the Vikings. It is their chance to get off on the right foot in a (hopeful) rebound season. I think they do. Final Prediction: Lions 24, Vikings 20