- Michael Rothstein, ESPN Detroit Lions reporter
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Breakdown: If the Detroit Lions are going to make the playoffs this season, they are going to have to be able to deal with a potentially rough start to the season. The schedule-makers clearly like Detroit –- four prime-time games and two more in national slots -– but the front-loaded nature of it could mean a 1-4 start for the Lions. Going to San Diego, Minnesota and Seattle in the first four weeks of the season -– with games against Denver on a Sunday night and Arizona in Week 5 sandwiched in there -– gives the Lions a start in which they face three playoff teams.
Detroit really will have to take advantage of the middle of the schedule, with six home games in eight weeks from Weeks 5 to 12. This could give the Lions a chance to find some rhythm before going on the road for three of four weeks to end the season. Two of those home games have an interesting quirk as the Lions are going to be playing back-to-back Thursday night games against Philadelphia on Thanksgiving and Green Bay a week later, both at home.
If the Lions can get to eight wins by Week 15, they has a decent shot at a playoff berth, but it won’t be easy with trips to St. Louis, New Orleans and Chicago in that final stretch. The biggest bonus for the Lions in that stretch -- and why they might be able to sneak into the playoffs with a rough start -- is of those final three road games, two are in domes where they won’t have to deal with crummy weather. That could be a hidden bonus for Detroit.
Complaint department: That start is incredibly brutal. Week 1 is a West Coast trip to San Diego, which will likely have an experienced quarterback (Philip Rivers, if he's not traded) against a retooling defense. Week 2 could be the home debut for Adrian Peterson for the first time since his suspension. Week 3 sees Peyton Manning coming to town. Week 4 is going to Seattle and the best defense in the NFL the past few seasons. Week 5 is against Arizona, a team the Lions have struggled against recently. That is a devastating stretch that should test the Lions more than any other season-opening stretch the past few seasons. If I’m Jim Caldwell, I’m not happy about that.
The Lions are popular: Detroit has six games in national time slots this year -– two games on Monday Night Football (Seattle, New Orleans), one on Sunday night (Denver), one on Thursday night (Green Bay) along with Thanksgiving (Philadelphia) and London (Kansas City). Considering the Lions' lack of success in the past, this is a pretty decent sign that the league believes Detroit could be a good team this season. Plus, it gives the Lions something to look forward to.
"Hopefully it happens. I know as players, guys get really fired up to play on prime time,” quarterback Matthew Stafford said Tuesday. “It’s just a lot of fun to play in front of the whole country. I think you kind of have to earn 'em, no question. You kind of have to play good for them to put you on national TV.”
The back-to-back off-time games are interesting: The Lions have a lot of national windows, but Detroit is actually in a favorable position when it comes to those stretches. The Lions play back-to-back night games (Sunday night in Week 3, Monday night in Week 4) and then those back-to-back Thursday night games. That gives Detroit something akin to a normal week even with two theoretical short weeks and a mini-bye entering the final four games of the season. For the Lions, if they are in the playoff picture, those extra three days could end up being more critical than we realize right now.
Strength of schedule: 15th, .527
Lions regular-season schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 13, at San Diego, 4:05 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 20, at Minnesota, 1:00 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 27, Denver, 8:30 p.m.
Week 4: Monday, Oct. 5, at Seattle, 8:30 p.m.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 11, Arizona, 4:05 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 18, Chicago, 1:00 p.m.
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 25, Minnesota, 1:00 p.m.
Week 8: Sunday, Nov. 1, at Kansas City, 9:30 a.m.*
Week 9: BYE
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 15, at Green Bay, 1:00 p.m.
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 22, Oakland, 1:00 p.m.
Week 12: Thursday, Nov. 26, Philadelphia, 12:30 p.m.
Week 13: Thursday, Dec. 3, Green Bay, 8:25 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 13, at St. Louis, 1:00 p.m.
Week 15: Monday, Dec. 21, at New Orleans, 8:30 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 27, San Francisco, 1:00 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Jan. 3, at Chicago, 1:00 p.m.
*-Game to be played in London
The Lions have a tricky start to the season and plenty of prime-time slots, indicating that expectations remain high in Detroit.