On Tuesday, the NFL announced its 2011 regular season schedule. While we already knew which teams the Detroit Lions would be playing back when the 2010 season came to an end, Tuesday was our first chance to see the entire Lions 2011 schedule.
Like every year, certain games stick out on the Lions' schedule. The season opener, Monday Night Football showdown with the Bears and season finale at Lambeau Field all immediately jumped out to me as games to watch. Are they among the five most anticipated games on the Lions' 2011 schedule? Find out below.
No. 5 - at New Orleans Saints (Dec. 4, 1 p.m., FOX)
Two years ago, Jim Schwartz's first game as Lions head coach came at the New Orleans Saints. At the time the game didn't seem too noteworthy aside from being Schwartz's debut. As it turned out, though, it was also the beginning of the Saints' march to a Super Bowl title.
This year the Lions will head to New Orleans to begin the month of December. The Saints are expected to be in the thick of a hunt for the NFC South title. Could the Lions also be in the hunt for the NFC North title? It's very possible, and this game comes in at No. 5 on the list because going up against Drew Brees is always exciting. Hopefully this time around the secondary of the Lions will make things a bit less exciting, at least when it comes to trying to quiet the Saints' explosive passing game.
No. 4 - vs. Green Bay Packers (Nov. 24, 12:30 p.m., FOX)
The annual Thanksgiving Day game is always on a list like this. Last year, the Lions went up against the New England Patriots and were in it for a half. Things went downhill quickly after Alphonso Smith got burned a couple times, but the Lions at least made things interesting for part of the game.
In 2011, Detroit will go up against a familiar Turkey Day foe in the Packers. This will be the Lions' third game against the Packers on Thanksgiving in the last five years. Detroit's last win in the Thanksgiving Classic came against the Packers back in 2003, and the Lions will try to end their Turkey Day losing streak and extend their home winning streak against Green Bay to two this year.
No. 3 - at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Sept. 11, 1 p.m., FOX)
There isn't anything too special about going up against the Buccaneers other than it's a rematch of a late-season game from 2010 that the Lions won in overtime. The reason this game is at No. 3 on the list is because it is the season opener. Every year the first game of the season is highly anticipated. Fans count down the days until football season arrives.
This year especially, the season opener will be highly anticipated simply because it's not clear if it will happen right now. Fans will count down the days until football season as if it will be played, but without a CBA in place right now there are no guarantees. Part of the intrigue surrounding this game is the question of if it will actually happen, but that doesn't make it any less anticipated. In fact, I actually think it makes the game more anticipated. Fans are aching for a deal to get done so football will be ensured to happen in 2011, and the anticipation surrounding the season opener is intertwined with the anticipation surrounding a new CBA being worked out.
No. 2 - at Green Bay Packers (Jan. 1, 1 p.m., FOX)
The Packers are back on this list with Detroit's game at Lambeau Field to finish off the 2011 regular season. Usually New Year's Day is reserved for college bowl games, but this year it will be the NFL's day to close out the regular season.
The last time the Lions finished the season off at Green Bay was in 2008. The Packers won, 31-21, to give the Lions a final record of 0-16. This season things are expected to be much different, which is why this game is No. 2 on this list. The anticipation surrounding this game doesn't necessarily emanate from the matchup, but rather the idea of the implications that could go along with it. For the first time in a long time, fans think the regular season finale could have playoff or even division title implications. The anticipation to see if that will be the case is very high. Adding the Packers as the opponent and Lambeau as the venue only adds to the intrigue for this game.
No. 1 - vs. Chicago Bears (Oct. 10, 8:30 p.m., ESPN)
It should come as no surprise that the Lions' return to Monday Night Football is No. 1 on the list of the most anticipated games in 2011. It has been 10 long years since the Lions last had a game featured as part of Monday Night Football. It didn't go well, to say the least (the Lions lost to the Rams by a score of 35-0), which is partly why it has taken so long for them to get another MNF game.
The fact that the Lions are going to be playing this game on Monday night was reason enough to put it No. 1 on the list. Add in the rival Chicago Bears as the opponent and it makes for a game that is interesting beyond the day of the week in which it will be played. Remember, the Bears are the team that injured Matthew Stafford last season (the first time) and in 2009 (also the first time). Let's also remember that the Lions had a potential win over the Bears taken away from them in the first week of the 2010 season thanks to the Calvin Johnson no-catch ruling. There are plenty of storylines for this game beyond the fact that Monday Night Football is making its return to Detroit, and they all contribute to make the matchup against the Bears on Oct. 10 the most anticipated game on the Lions' 2011 schedule.