The Lions aren’t expected to be good this season, not ready to move out of their parents’ NFC North basement and get a place of their own. They might not even top last year’s 5-11 record.
And you know what? For this particular season, you can live with that (not that you have a choice). That’s because the Lions should be something they rarely are — interesting, unpredictable, slightly mysterious.
Will fans mourn Matthew Stafford’s departure by spending Sundays watching replays of his near-victory in the playoffs against Dallas? Will new coach Dan Campbell actually mangle body parts, and if so, will he be penalized 15 yards? Will GM Brad Holmes trade Jared Goff and two first-round picks for Aaron Rodgers?
The NFL unveiled its 2021 schedule in a 12-hour documentary Wednesday night, a highly anticipated reveal considering fans are expected back in stadiums in full inebriated force. It’s always a challenge for Roger Goodell’s crew to make appropriate concessions for the league’s elite. For instance, I heard Tampa Bay demanded an exemption to play only day games so middle-aged quarterback Tom Brady could get to bed at a reasonable hour. Also, to keep Rodgers happy, the Packers requested 11 home games, including four against the Lions, all in December.
The NFL refused but still did the Lions no favors, sending them to Denver in December, Seattle in January and Cleveland whenever. One sad note: Because the league is adopting a 17-game schedule, the glorious tradition of picking the Lions to finish 8-8 is over. Thankfully, 8-8-1 is on the clock.
It’s a bold new era, with more kneecap issues than salary-cap issues. If you want to know how the season will unfold, you came to the right place.
► WEEK ONE: 49ers at Lions, Sept. 12
If they merely put their pants on correctly, the Lions should get off to a better start than they did under Matt Patricia, who dropped his opener to the Jets and rookie quarterback Sam Darnold, 48-17. Wait, uh-oh, the 49ers might start rookie Trey Lance. Speaking of rookies, Lions tackle Penei Sewell gets thrown in against Nick Bosa and holds him (not literally) without a sack. Pick: 49ers, 27-16
► WEEK TWO: Lions at Packers, Sept. 20
It’s a Monday night, so the nation can see what fresh hell Rodgers will foist upon the Lions. A 92-yard Hail Mary? A phantom facemask penalty on fourth-and-38? Rodgers spent the offseason being miffed at the Packers’ front office and even contemplated retirement. Then someone reminded him he gets to play the Lions twice a year and still has only one meager Super Bowl victory. Pick: Packers, 37-17
► WEEK THREE: Ravens at Lions, Sept. 26
A major test for new defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn, who has installed several new wrinkles, including “tackling” and “not jumping offside on third-and-4 because of the quarterback’s *&$%#* cadence!” Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson puts on a show, running for 203 yards despite the sudden absence of kneecaps. Pick: Ravens, 31-17
► WEEK FOUR: Lions at Bears, Oct. 3
Faced with the prospect of an 0-4 start, Campbell fires up his team with a reprisal of his introductory speech: “Men, we’re going out there to rip ligaments from limbs and swirl them above our heads! We shall visit pain upon them that will be felt by their ancestors!” Alas, with limited receiving options, Goff completes only 12 of 27 passes, eight of them to newly signed free agent Edgar Hoogendorf. Pick: Bears, 23-9
► WEEK FIVE: Lions at Vikings, Oct. 10
Kirk Cousins enters his fourth season of not living up to expectations with Minnesota, yet the Vikings have won seven straight in the series. Sewell scores two touchdowns on end-zone fumble recoveries and the Lions get their first win. Game balls are handed out to each member of the extensive, collaborative front office, which takes 35 minutes and 27 balls. Campbell’s congratulatory backslap to owner Sheila Ford Hamp sends her tumbling into a laundry cart. Pick: Lions, 19-16
► WEEK SIX: Bengals at Lions, Oct. 17
The Bengals Ja’Marr Chase sets a rookie receiving record with 329 yards, but Joe Burrow is sacked three times by Lions rookie Levi Onwuzurike (heretofore known as Levi). Center Frank Ragnow scores twice on fumble recoveries and the Lions are on a roll. Pick: Lions, 38-31
► WEEK SEVEN: Lions at Rams, Oct. 24
It’s a national TV matchup between the 2-4 Lions and 2-4 Rams. Matthew Stafford leads the league in passing yards and interceptions while the Rams admit they “need to find him more weapons.” Goff is so determined to prove his toughness to his former team, he intentionally breaks a thumb in warmups. Pick: Rams, 30-18
► WEEK EIGHT: Eagles at Lions, Oct. 31
With their energetic new regime, the Lions are determined not to be haunted by their past. They jump out to a big lead but stumble as the Eagles’ Kerryon Johnson rushes for 198 yards and Darius Slay grabs two interceptions. Pick: Eagles, 34-27
► WEEK NINE: Bye
Sitting at 2-6, Holmes and Campbell work the phone lines, mainly asking the Rams and Saints if they have any players they’re not using. Holmes tries desperately to make trades and is informed the deadline passed.
► WEEK 10: Lions at Steelers, Nov. 14
Playing spirited defense, the Lions hit aging wooden structure Ben Roethlisberger repeatedly. Newly activated linebacker Chris Spielman records 14 tackles, but the Lions’ revamped running game is held to 37 yards on 49 carries. Pick: Steelers, 20-10
► WEEK 11: Lions at Browns, Nov. 21
The Lions are following the Browns’ post-0-16 blueprint, and that means constructing a beefy offensive line and finding playmakers. Goff’s up-and-down season continues, but he throws two touchdown passes to Kalif Raymond, who may or may not be a newly signed free agent. Pick: Browns, 23-17
► WEEK 12: Bears at Lions (Thanksgiving)
The Bears start rookie Justin Fields, who replaced Nick Foles, who replaced Andy Dalton. The Lions have lost four straight on Thanksgiving, including twice to the Bears, which is humiliating considering Chicago has a history of starting Mitch Trubisky. Former Ohio State star Fields learns that November in Detroit is not nearly the same as November in Ann Arbor. Pick: Lions, 24-20
► WEEK 13: Vikings at Lions, Dec. 5
Just as the Lions start showing progress, reality check. Cousins rallies the Vikings from a 24-3 deficit and a distraught Campbell conducts his postgame news conference shirtless, waving around a chainsaw. Angry Lions fans blame the quarterback, clamor for backup Tim Something or Other. Pick: Vikings, 30-27
► WEEK 14: Lions at Broncos, Dec. 12
Naturally in the NFL’s 17-game schedule, some teams get an extra road game. Naturally, the Lions’ extra road game is in Denver. Naturally, it’s slated for mid-December. The Lions’ penchant for getting torched by journeyman quarterbacks endures another year, as Teddy Bridgewater throws for 397 yards. Pick: Broncos, 30-13
► WEEK 15: Cardinals at Lions, Dec. 19
Some NFL teams have rowdy fan sections with cool names like “The Dawg Pound,” or “The Black Hole,” or “The Philadelphia police detention center at Lincoln Financial Field.” The Lions’ best-known tradition, outside of Thanksgiving, is playing the Cardinals every stinkin’ year for no discernible reason. It’s a heartbreaker, as new Cardinals kicker Matt Prater drills a 69-yard field goal at the final gun. Pick: Cardinals, 17-16
► WEEK 16: Lions at Falcons, Dec. 26
In my semi-educated opinion, the Lions took the right path in starting over, but here’s a case for the opposite. The Falcons kept quarterback Matt Ryan, hired offensive whiz Arthur Smith and drafted tight end/receiver cyborg Kyle Pitts. Which plan will work? No clue, but I’m sure we’ll judge it based on just one game! Pick: Lions, 35-20
► WEEK 17: Lions at Seahawks, Jan. 2
The Lions’ last visit to Seattle was a wild-card playoff game in 2017 that was the most homely, lopsided 26-6 loss in modern football history. This time, Goff nearly outduels Russell Wilson, but his last pass to newly signed free agent Danny Amendola falls incomplete. Pick: Seahawks, 27-23
► WEEK 18: Packers at Lions, Jan. 9
Again, the end-of-season dilemma: Battle for victory against the reviled Packers or do just enough to lose and ensure a higher draft pick? The Lions make strides, but they’re not ready for this. Rodgers passes for 424 yards, flips the game ball to backup Jordan Love and flips the bird to GM Brian Gutekunst as the Packers clinch the NFC North. Pick: Packers, 34-24
► Lions record: 4-13
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