An Early Deep Dive Into the 2021 Detroit Lions Schedule
The 2021 National Football League season is now in its preparation stage with the May 12th announcement of the upcoming schedule. Several changes are slated with the approved addition of one more regular season game and the loss of a preseason contest.
When it comes to the Detroit Lions, the changes are much more drastic. New head coach, new coaching staff, new general manager and familiar names that you would expect to don the Honolulu Blue are not there any more. The longtime signal caller, Matt Stafford, was shipped out west in a swap of quarterbacks. Veterans in the backfield, Adrian Peterson and Kerryon Johnson, were let go by free agency or just getting cut. The top received the last three years, Kenny Golladay, is taking a bite out of the Big Apple with the Giants. One thing is for sure, the Lions has shored up the offensive line with their top pick in the 2021 draft in Penei Sewell and a massive contract for center Frank Ragnow.
The question that Lions fans may have heading into the new season would be the possible benefit of being buyers once the free agency market opens. According to Over The Cap, the Lions are in positions to make a few moves by having the fifth-most cap space available. The problem is that they could have had more due to the amount of dead money that they gave up with trades and cuts (Stafford and Johnson) that led to the most dead money in the NFL.
Now that the Lions will officially have a preseason this year (none in 2020), Detroit will now figure things out with head coach Dan Campbell and his staff before the regular season begins in mid-September. The Lions preseason will have games with the Buffalo Bills, the Pittsburgh Steelers (who they see during the season) and the Indianapolis Colts. The dates and times will be announced soon.
Now, on to the 2021 schedule -
Week 1 - vs. San Francisco 49ers (6-10 in 2020) - Sunday, September 12th - 1pm
If the Lions can't figure out what they have through the preseason, they may benefit from a home game against a team that may be trying to figure out their future QB. Detroit has a proven quarterback in Jared Goff after spending five seasons with the Los Angeles Rams. Goff became expendable after receiving a four-year extension to his contract in 2019, only to be shipped to Motown for Stafford who was in the same boat. As for the Niners, they will have to determine if their future will rely on Jimmy Garappolo or rookie sensation Trey Lance to lead the offense. San Francisco's defense is still one of the best in the league, but could change without Robert Saleh (now the head coach with the New York Jets) calling the shots. Detroit will have a first-time defensive coordinator but a senior assistant in Dom Capers that could help worst defense in 2020.
Week 2 - at Green Bay Packers (13-3 in 2020, NFC North Champions, Lost in NFC Finals) - Monday, September 20th - 8:15pm
Wouldn't this be an interesting match-up at Lambeau Field, potentially without future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers? There is way too much of a window even think about what would happen if 2020 first-rounder Jordan Love or even veteran journeyman Blake Bortles could be the starter by Week 2. Time will surely tell, but my gut says the Pack may have Rodgers back and provide the money he needs to stay. Hate to say it, but the reigning MVP has a vast majority of the Green Bay pie in his wallet. It may be time to shell out a little to grab reinforcements for the offense. I do think that with this part of the roster being a mystery, the Lions could a win here especially since they have earned wins in three of the last six games at Lambeau. The other bit of bad news, the Lions traditionally don't do well in prime time.
Week 3 - vs. Baltimore Ravens (11-5 in 2020, Reached AFC Divisional Playoff) - Sunday, September 26th - 1pm
The Lions better get ready to stop the run and it won't happen against a team that does it better than anybody in the NFL. Even worse, Detroit struggles against mobile quarterbacks. Baltimore checks all the boxes and had the seventh-best defense in 2020. Even with it being a home game, it doesn't bode well for the Lions. Detroit has only defeated the Ravens once in five meetings, dating back to 2005.
Week 4 - at Chicago Bears (8-8 in 2020, Lost in NFC Wild Card) - Sunday, October 3rd - 1pm
Detroit gets to avoid a trip to Soldier Field late in the scene when it is a lot more frigid on the west side of Lake Michigan. Like the Niners a few weeks previous, the Bears are hoping by this time in the 2021 season to have a quarterback firmly in place. Instead of Mitch Trubisky, it will now be a battle between seasoned veteran Andy Dalton (who was signed quickly after the Dallas Cowboys let him go), Super Bowl hero Nick Foles (who is back in the journeyman role) and first-round pick Justin Fields. Chicago is stuck with not being able to add anyone to the roster before the season starts and are a year away from making any moves. This is a make-or-break year for head coach Matt Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace and one of the first times in a decade where a lot of doubt is hovering in the Windy City.
Week 5 - at Minnesota Vikings (7-9 in 2020) - Sunday, October 10th - 1pm
Oh, goody. Another NFC North battle and back-to-back road games to boot. The Vikings were starting to make the turn after their mid-season bye, only to collapse in the final four weeks. Minnesota won both games in 2020 but played better at home than their two-point victory at Ford Field. Minnesota will also be quite comfortable at home by Week 5, opening with four home contests in the first five weeks. The Vikings have not lost to the Lions since 2017.
Week 6- vs. Cincinnati Bengals (4-11-1 in 2020) - Sunday, October 17th - 1pm
Detroit will have an opportunity to end one of their longest losing streaks against a single franchise when they host the Bengals. By this time in 2021, quarterback Joe Burrow should be close to returning to the team after a devastating leg injury. Can the Bengals rely on keeping Burrow upright? That's why they brought on former Lions Riley Reiff to gain some stability on the O-Line. History on the other hand is not on the Lions side. Detroit has lost six straight to Cincy in 12 games. Their last win against the Bengals was in 1992. The last win at home? Before the Silverdome opened (1970).
Week 7 - at Los Angeles Rams (10-6 in 2020, Reached NFC Divisional Playoff) - Sunday, October 24th - 4:05pm
Why the NFL decided not to have this game in Week 1 instead of Week 7 is beyond me (the Rams hosting the Bears on Sunday night was a better option, I guess). For Lions fans, this will be the game that is circled for the one game they would want to travel to. If you love or hate the man, Matthew Stafford brought a lot more promise at the quarterback position for Detroit than they had in most of our lifetimes (Joey Harrington, Chuck Long, anybody?). Goff is a first-round pick as well, but we'll see how he works out through seven weeks of Anthony Lynn's offense which can be promising. History is also on Detroit's side, winning three of the last five games with the Rams but losing to them their last meeting in 2018. This will also be the Lions first trip to Los Angeles (Rams, Raiders or Chargers) since 1993.
Week 8 - vs. Philadelphia Eagles (4-11-1 in 2020) - Sunday, October 31st - 1pm
I'm not sure what is more scary - the fact that the Lions might have a chance to win at home against a rebuilding Eagles squad or that this is happening Halloween afternoon. We will either be tricked or it will be a treat. Now that Philly has gone all-in on second-year quarterback Jaylen Hurts, the Eagles will have to instill their will with a new coaching staff this year. If there is anything that could doom Detroit would be former Lions Kerryon Johnson and Darius Slay having monster games. The Lions have dominated the Eagles in the past decade, winning four of five. Get your popcorn balls ready.
Week 9 - Bye Week
Finally, the Lions get a mid-season break. After several seasons of seeing byes in Week 5 or 6, the Week 9 bye was much needed. Byes in the NFL this season begin in Week 6.
Week 10 - at Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4 in 2020, AFC North Champions, Lost in AFC Wild Card) - Sunday, November 14th - 1pm
A couple of the legendary teams in professional football history square off for the first time in four years. Even though they have been around in the same league since 1933 (going back to the Portsmouth Spartans and the Pittsburgh Pirates), they have only played 32 games against each other. The Steelers continue being consistent with a blend of veterans and youth and still remain one of the toughest teams in the NFL. The Lions will be on the road for this mid-November battle, right when the weather starts to turn. Detroit has not defeated the Steelers since 1998 and won on the road in the series since 1983 (forever Three Rivers Stadium).
Week 11 - at Cleveland Browns (11-5 in 2020, Reached AFC Divisional Playoff) - Sunday, November 21st - 1pm
Is the barge trophy up for grabs in this one? I only kid because I have always found it to be one of the more funny trophies out there, albeit a preseason game. What bodes well for the Lions is that they have won 19 of 24 regular season meetings. What doesn't bode well is that it is another AFC North battle and the upstart Browns, who reached the playoffs last year, are more than likely to be in favor. Depending on Cleveland having an implosion or an explosion by this time of the season, we'll have to wait and see.
Week 12 - vs. Chicago Bears - Thursday, November 25th - 12:30pm (Thanksgiving)
I'm a fan of the Thanksgiving Day game in the fact that I can drown my sorrows in turkey gravy and mashed potatoes and watch the Lions lose another game in the second half while the tryptophan kicks in. The Bears for the third time in four years?!? This part needs to stop. This will be the 19th meeting between them on Thanksgiving, which is still the second-most turkey day games against one opponent (Green Bay is at 21). The Lions have not won on Thanksgiving in four years, but there is a time to change that this year - now that the Matt Patricia era has come to an end.
Week 13 - vs. Minnesota Vikings - Sunday, December 5th - 1pm
The Lions will get another go with the Vikings late in the season and could be a perfect time for Detroit to lay the trap. Minnesota will be on their fourth game in five weeks on the road while facing the likes of Baltimore, the Los Angeles Chargers, Green Bay (their only home game in the stretch) and San Francisco. If the Vikings don't take this game lightly, it will be a long afternoon for a well-rested Lions squad. Detroit will need to make amends with a more-than-likely loss to the Purple Gang in Week 5.
Week 14 - at Denver Broncos (5-11 in 2020) - Sunday, December 12th - 4:05pm
What do indoor teams struggle with during the NFL season? Playing outdoors in the cold. On top of that, a mile above sea level. The Broncos are another team on the Lions schedule that is in a rebuild on the offensive side of the ball. Denver is expected to be better at quarterback now that the battle begins between incumbent Drew Lock or veteran Teddy Bridgewater, who is on his third team in as many seasons. Stopping the run will be at a premium again for the Lions defense with a bastion of running backs in Phillip Lindsey, Melvin Gordon, Royce Freeman and LeVante Bellamy (Western Michigan's fourth-best rusher in history in his second year in Denver). The Lions have lost their last two games against the Broncos including their December 2019 contest in Denver.
Week 15 - vs. Arizona Cardinals (8-8 in 2020) - Sunday, December 19th - 1pm
The Lions can't seem to avoid the Cardinals. This will be the fifth straight season the two squads have battled and they are not even in the same division. The only good news is that it will be played in Detroit for the first time since 2017. The Lions have been 3-0-1 in this recent stretch with the lone tie coming in 2019 (Kliff Kingbury's first game as coach for the Cardinals). Now that the offense is starting to come together in Arizona, the Cardinals upgraded their defense with the additions of T.J. Watt (Houston) and a second season of linebacker Isaiah Simmons (who the Lions should have taken in the 2020 draft).
Week 16 - at Atlanta Falcons (4-12 in 2020) - Sunday, December 26th - 1pm
The Lions and Falcons meet for the second straight year at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Barring a Stafford miracle last season, the Lions would have lost four of their last five games against the Falcons, including one in London in 2017. Detroit will once again face a team that is rebuilding and has a new coaching staff that will benefit from having the top offensive threat from the 2021 draft in tight end Kyle Pitts and Atlanta's best wide out in history, Julio Jones. Could this be the last hurrah for quarterback Matt Ryan? Hopefully, the Falcons don't have another late-season downturn.
Week 17 - at Seattle Seahawks (12-4 in 2020, NFC West Champions, Lost in NFC Wild Card) - Sunday, January 2nd - 4:25pm
I would like to say there is a chance the Lions could win this one, but I can't. Not on the road, not in January, not against a divisional champion and not against another team that has a disgruntled quarterback that does everything to win (sounds like a Dr. Seuss book). When Detroit heads to the Pacific Northwest, it will be the final home regular season game of the season for the Seahawks and could be priming up for another deep postseason run. The Lions last win in Seattle was in the final year of the Kingdome (1999).
Week 18 - vs. Green Bay Packers - Sunday, January 9th - 1pm
Just about as familiar as the Lions seeing the Bears on Thanksgiving (reference Week 12), Detroit gets to see the Packers for the final week of the season for the fifth time in six years. Usually by this point, it could be the chance for Detroit to get into the playoffs with a win, or another chance for Green Bay to wipe their feet at the door of the postseason. I must confess, I am interested to see how the Lions hold up by this time in the schedule, especially with an additional week to the season.