Detroit welcomes Minnesota into Ford Field to open the 2013 NFL season Sunday. Minnesota comes in off a playoff berth and with the best offensive weapon in football, elite running back Adrian Peterson.
Both teams also come in with a huge weight on their shoulders.
Even with Calvin Johnson’s record breaking season in 2012 the team reverted back to their old ways which was even more disappointing considering their playoff season in 2011. The Lions fell from 10-6 in 2011 to 4-12 in 2012, finishing the year with an 8 game losing streak.
Minnesota though in a way feels like they have more to prove than Detroit.
How does a team make the playoffs in a tough division, have the NFL’s best running back and still get no respect? Not to mention how do the Vikings go on the road to Detroit and are more than a field goal underdog?
Match ups to watch out for
Adrian Peterson vs. Detroit’s revamped defensive line
A.P. had a monster year last year torching Detroit for 273 yards which put him around 5 ½ yards a carry. What makes this an even worse match up for Detroit is that the linebacking core lost Justin Durant to free agency and didn’t make any adjustments aside from what was done to the defensive line. Ndamukong Suh has stepped up this offseason and now looks poised to make this his defense. This hopefully means the defensive line is no longer running themselves out of plays as teams gash the Lions up the middle. QB pressure is nice but Detroit will have to be crafty and make wise decisions on when to rush the quarterback or clog up the middle since Peterson can make you pay in a big way. You also have to wonder what will be of Lions first round draft pick Ziggy Ansah? He looked really good throughout preseason but suffered a concussion late and was very limited in practice the final couple weeks. Does his success carry over to the regular season? What kind of impact does he make on the game today (currently he’s listed as probable)? There’s just too many questions to consider to give Detroit the edge here.
Calvin Johnson vs. Minnesota’s secondary
Much was made about Calvin Johnson’s record breaking year in 2012. I had a hard time celebrating anything that happened on a 4-12 team that was going in reverse. The Lions were playing from behind a lot last year which made them very pass happy. Well if you take a bad team that throws the ball too much because of a poor rushing attack plus being down at half time equals a record breaking season for a team that lost their last 8 games. I’m not taking any credit away from Megatron, he is a great weapon to have it’s just sometimes a WR’s impact on games is over blown. Wide outs can dominate a game, but not a season and not without help to compliment Johnson’s skill set. Minnesota has had plenty of trouble containing CJ going back to Week 9 of last year where he had 12 receptions for 207 yards. They’ve also had their success against him notably coming in Week 4 holding him to just 5 receptions and 54 yards. With Cook on the right corner and Robinson on the left corner plus rookie Xavier Rhodes I think Calvin is in line for a big day. The Detroit passing attack will however have to watch out for Harrison Smith being bracketed over the top of Johnson on deeper routes and if Stafford is having a bad day being accurate Smith can certainly take advantage.
Jared Allen vs. Riley Reiff
It’s time for new LT Riley Reiff to get his big boy pants on as he’s now the new starting left tackle for the Detroit Lions. Meanwhile Jared Allen is a premier pass rusher and multiple time Pro Bowl defensive end. Allen in his 5 years as a Viking has 74 sacks and has seen double digit numbers every year. He has made a living terrorizing the NFC North and the Lions are one of his worst victims (7 sacks in the last 2 seasons). Reiff on the other hand was used sparingly last year as an extra run blocker and got one start on Thanksgiving. He’s also looked average this preseason.
Reggie Bush vs. Minnesota Linebackers
New Lions’ RB Reggie Bush brings something that they’ve never really had before, a compliment to Calvin Johnson’s greatness. It’s been the Megatron show for 2 years, with spot appearances by Stafford and Suh. There just hasn’t been much supporting cast. With Bush, the Lions get a RB with the most receptions and targets in the league since he (Bush) was drafted second overall back in 2008. It’s also the second big play threat element Bush brings. He has excellent hands and very good speed something opposing defenses will obviously have to watch out for which in turn will benefit Megatron and vice versa. Now I don’t think Lions fans need to take stock in predictions like Reggie Bush breaking the RB reception record or Bush running for 1000 yards. I don’t see it happening. But if you want to say 1,300 all purpose yards I’m buying it. Minnesota though has strong safety play and a very solid linebacking core which should make this a nice test for Bush. But it’s a catch 22 for the Vikes. While they were 11th against run, they were 24th against the pass and their CB play is suspect. Bush will be used in both roles, but he will be a passing option more as the short pass and swing pass in Detroit’s rushing attack.
Matthew Stafford vs. Christian Ponder
We have a tie in terms of the breakdown so here’s your tie breaker, Stafford vs. Christian Ponder. I don’t think anyone will make the argument that Ponder is a better QB than Stafford. But there are pros and cons with both. Stafford can give you a big play, but Ponder will take care of the football. Both of these QB’s have been invested in heavily in terms of offensive gifts. Stafford every year gets a new toy via the draft or free agency and the Vikings have done the same for Ponder, by way of tight end Kyle Rudolph last year and Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson this year. Both franchises are in a place where it’s time to put up or shut up at the quarterback position. Ponder has more depth at his disposal but Stafford has a more talented arm and more high end talent surrounding him. This will come down to big plays and taking care of the football.
Lions over Vikings 31-24