NFC North: 2014 London NFL

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The Detroit Lions are headed to London next season to face the Atlanta Falcons, but their interest in talking about a game a year away is nil.

The message throughout the Lions' locker room Thursday about heading to Europe next season was decidedly that they did not want to talk about it. They instead wanted to stay focused on Dallas. That started from the head coach, Jim Schwartz, on down.

“You know it’s hard to get me to comment on next week, much less next year,” Schwartz said. “We have the Cowboys this week. That [London] really has nothing to do with the Cowboys.”

[+] EnlargeJoseph Fauria
Geoff Burke/USA TODAY SportsTight end Joseph Fauria says life in the NFL is too volatile to worry about next season's schedule.
It doesn’t, but the Lions will be one of six teams headed overseas for a week next season. Detroit will be the away team, which means the Lions will likely leave after practice Thursday, fly over and practice in England on Friday. They’ll play Sunday and then return to the United States.

Some of the current group of Lions have played in London before. Defensive end Israel Idonije and wide receiver Micheal Spurlock played for Chicago and Tampa Bay, respectively, when the teams faced each other in 2011. Backup quarterback Shaun Hill played with Amsterdam in NFL Europe in 2003, but the London franchise no longer existed then.

Others have visited there. Safety Louis Delmas took a vacation there three years ago, but didn’t want to talk about his experiences there, instead focusing on this season.

Others, though, haven’t been over there at all.

“Never left the country,” defensive end Willie Young said. “Never.”

“No, never been out of the country,” rookie punter Sam Martin said. “So yeah, it’ll be cool. But I don’t know anything about it. I still think it’s awesome to play in the United States.”

“Never been to London,” receiver Calvin Johnson said. “Like I said, it’ll be interesting.”

Then there is the harsh reality of the NFL. Even if a player is planning on being with the Lions next season and planning on making the trip, you just never know what could happen in the league.

“Undrafted guys, even the fact that I am whatever, No. 2 or the starter, whatever you want to call it, doesn’t mean my future here is in stone,” said rookie tight end Joseph Fauria, who has a three-year contract. “Especially a young guy with not a lot invested in me when it comes to money, anything could happen.

“That’s cool, but I’m mostly worried about the Cowboys.”

The one person in the organization who would talk about it -- team president Tom Lewand. For the Lions, it was important to not give up a potential home game, which was why they agreed to play in the game against the Falcons. It is Atlanta’s home game.

Part of the allure of going overseas to play, though, is the increased marketing opportunities for the franchise, along with giving Detroit’s fan base a different place to travel.

“There’s clearly some potential with existing partners and some potential future partners to do some activation internationally that is just different than the opportunities we have here,” Lewand said. “But the real focus is on the challenge that it presents for our team.

“It’s a different setting, a different experience, and that can only build skills and build experience as you have an opportunity to meet those challenges.”

The last time Detroit played in England was during the 1993 preseason, when the Lions tied Dallas, 13-13.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Detroit is headed to London and really, this always seemed like it would make sense. As the league tries to build its presence overseas -- including three games next season -- why wouldn’t the NFL try to put a team with a bunch of marketable players in one of those games.

Detroit has the best receiver in the game, Calvin Johnson. It has a former No. 1 overall draft pick at quarterback in Matthew Stafford, and one of the game's most polarizing players in defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

Johnson
Plus, when Detroit’s offense is playing well, it is one of the more exciting to watch in the league. Also consider the opponent, Atlanta. While the Falcons are struggling this season, they have been a playoff team the past few years. So the NFL is putting a matchup between two explosive offenses in England at a date and time to be determined.

Perhaps the most important thing for Detroit is it doesn’t lose a home game in this deal, either. Atlanta is the home team, so the Lions now have a 2014 schedule with eight home games, seven road games and a trip overseas. That isn’t a bad deal at all.

"We are excited for the opportunity to play on an international stage against a quality NFC opponent," Detroit Lions president Tom Lewand said in a statement. "It will be a different challenge for our football team; one that we fully embrace.

"The global platform also presents a unique and special opportunity for our fans and business partners to join us in sharing the many positive stories about the city of Detroit, the state of Michigan and the Lions."

While I’m not too sure about all of that, there should be an excitement there. This is a chance for a lot of players to briefly see a different part of the world. Some of them have never been to London, or to Europe.

Last month, I asked a couple of Lions players whether they would play for a London-based franchise. While that didn’t really get them excited, the prospect of playing one game over there was intriguing.

"I’ve never been to London," receiver Ryan Broyles said. "It would probably be kind of cool, I wouldn’t mind playing over there for a weekend."

Now he could get a chance and earn a paycheck doing it.

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