Week One at the Detroit Lions...
I remember watching then Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez being taunted in Yankee Stadium, "Who's Your Da-ddy". I appreciated both Pedro's candor and humor when he fed this line to the media. What made it so endearing was that it was true. Martinez was overmatched that year by the eventual World Series Champion..
The Minnesota Vikings have a 68-33-2 edge on Detroit Lions in their entire history. The more than 2:1 edge was improved in last year's sweep. Minnesota owns Detroit.
Add to that fact Minnesota won its' last four games, finished hot at 10-6, and made the playoffs. The Lions, on the other hand, lost their last eight consecutive games, to finish 4-12. After making the playoffs, and sweeping Minnesota in 2011, Detroit returned to the abyss otherwise known as the basement of the NFC North.
Critics of the Vikes-are-Lions-Daddy theory will point to factors in disagreeing.
Detroit was 2nd in passing last year. Minnesota's pass defense was ranked 31st. In Calvin Johnson, drafted five picks before Adrian Peterson in 2007, the Lions have the top yardage gainer in the NFL at wide receiver. Minnesota's weakness is in pass defense.
The Lions feel they have improved their run defense, led by Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley in the middle. Detroit spent an early pick on DE Ziggy Ansah. He suffered a concussion this preseason, but is expected to play and to be a major contributor throughout the year. Vikings' quarterback Christian Ponder saw pressure greater than most NFL QBs last year. While Minnesota's run blocking is awesome, its' pass blocking is not highly respected.
The addition of Reggie Bush improves both the run and pass game. Bush had 88 receptions in addition to rushing the ball last year for Miami. Bush's athleticism is expected to give Matthew Stafford better looks in opponent's secondary. Bush is considered a serious upgrade from last year's rookie Mikel LeShoure.
Minnesota will play without two key players in this season opener. DT Kevin Williams is listed out as of Friday, a victim of a cheap shot by the 49ers guard Joe Looney. Williams has a significant knee contusion along with a strain to something called the posterior capsular. Jerome Felton, the star fullback who paved Peterson's path in 2012, is out for the first few games due to a league suspension. That hurts Minnesota's offense more than a little.
And these all may be true.
But there are some red flags to that thought that should be the catalyst for a Minnesota victory.
First, Detroit lost eight straight games last year because Minnesota shredded them in Week Ten. The Lions were coming off a 17 point win over the Jaguars that had followed an win over the Seattle Seahawks. The Lions were 4-4 when they faced Minnesota in the Metrodome with hopes of returning to the playoffs still alive. Peterson ran for 171 yards and Christian Ponder completed 24-32 for 221 yards and two TDs. The Lions would go on to lose a series of close games until they basically quit playing.
This preseason, the Lions 1st string unit scored one time in 17 possessions. Matthew Stafford completed less than 50% of his passes. While Lions faithful insist their team will hold its' home advantage publicly; on their private blogs and discussions, they are really worried.
And they should be.
The Lions' offensive line is suspect. 2nd year left tackle Riley Reiff starts his new job with trying to block Jared Allen and Everson Griffen. Detroit also has new starters at right guard in rookie Larry Worford and right tackle Jason Fox. While Kevin Williams will be unavailable don't expect much of a let down with a DT rotation that includes rookie Sharrif Floyd, Fred Evans, and Letroy Guion. Stafford will be pressured.
The Lions are the oldest team in the NFL. Some theorize that is due to poor drafting and a need to compensate with free agent spending. That might not be a problem if you were say the New England Patriots and had a Tom Brady that makes everyone look good. But when you are coming off a 4-12 season, and stare up at the Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears and the Vikings, you have to wonder what the long term plan is.. or if anyone is planning.
The 2013 season will certainly not be decided by this first game. It may be a Calvin Johnson vs. Adrian Peterson type game. Or both teams may spend all their time worried about the stars, and guys like Kyle Rudolph or the Lions' Ryan Broyles make the difference. Neither team should put more on this game than the 1/16 it deserves. But we fans are different. We are looking for immediate answers to our hopes and/or doubts.
We may not know what will become of 2013 after tomorrow, but we might get a good hint...