Any and all conversations about the unusually lofty expectations for the 2011 Detroit Lions end with this caveat:
" ... if, of course, Matthew Stafford stays healthy."
It's a big if to those of us on the outside of Lions camp. Stafford potentially is a brilliant quarterback. But he also had more missed games because of knee and shoulder injuries (19) than games played (13) in his first two seasons. He also had surgery on that rocket right shoulder.
Inside Lions camp, there's no concern. At least that's what Lions coach Jim Schwartz said when I asked him about it on Wednesday.
"He has missed time his first two years, but the good news with that is those injuries don't carry forward," Schwartz said. "It's not like he has a nagging injury that he has to keep maintaining. Or he has something that limits him as a player. The injuries he's had the past couple years have healed, so he's fine. We don't worry about him as far as injuries go. He's an aggressive player and can make a lot of plays."
In leading the Lions to a 2-0 record heading into Sunday's game at the Metrodome, Stafford has played consecutive games without sustaining an injury for the first time since late in his rookie season in 2009.
Not coincidently, he's also the only starting quarterback who hasn't been sacked this season. The Lions also are the only team not to allow a sack. With better protection and quicker passes, Stafford has been hit only six times in two games.
That's one reason he has seven touchdown passes. Seven. He's the first Lions quarterback to have seven through two games since Milt Plum in 1962. In his last five games, Stafford has 13 touchdown passes and three interceptions.
"Honestly, he is playing about the same as he was playing last year [in his three games]," Schwartz said. "He was playing at a very, very high level last year when he was playing. He just wasn't on the field enough for us. People in these first two games are seeing a snapshot of him that we saw a long, long time ago. Part of Matt's development is improving the team around him. He's an improved player, but he was already at a pretty high level, particularly last year. He just wasn't on the field enough for us."
The Vikings' defense has four sacks and ranks 25th in sacks per pass play.
This is a tough game to pick because all signs point to the Lions winning the game. And in the NFL, when all signs point one way, I tend to head the other way.
Also, what's up (Detroit) usually comes down in the NFL. And what's down (Vikings) tends to rise.
In the end, I'm going with the better team while waiting for the Vikings to give the 60-minute performance that even they admit they haven't put forth yet. Lions 24, Vikings 21.