It’s only Week 2, but the hype continues to build for Sunday night’s game between the Detroit Lions and San Francisco 49ers.
Two undefeated teams, both coming off playoff seasons, a prime-time setting at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, plenty of animosity between the sides and, of course, a controversy that simply won’t go away.
What more can you ask for?
Here are five storylines to follow that have nothing to do with handshakes:
1. The Lions haven’t backed down from approaching this as somewhat of a statement game. Not the ultimate one by any means, and not the last one regardless of what happens.
But, still, a great opportunity on a national stage.
Detroit was 0-6 and got outscored 196-136 against NFC playoff teams last season, including two losses to Green Bay, two to New Orleans (one in the playoffs) and one each to San Francisco and Atlanta.
Receiver Calvin Johnson, asked if this was a measuring-stick type of game, answered, “You can say that. A lot of people will say that. We definitely want to see where we stack up, too. We feel that we’ve got a good shot going in here. Great shot.”
The 49ers are the talk of the NFC this week after winning at Green Bay in the opener.
“If we want to get to where we want to be, we’ve got to compete and beat teams like this,” center Dominic Raiola said. “Where we say we want to be in the end, when it’s all said and done one day, these are the kind of games. Let’s see what we’ve got.” 2. The Lions were road warriors a year ago, winning five times on hostile ground, a big reason they made the playoffs. Only three teams in the league won more road games – Green Bay (seven), San Francisco (six) and New England (six).
“There’s no better feeling than quieting a loud crowd,” linebacker Justin Durant said. “It’s one of the greater feelings in life.”
That success away from home will be difficult to duplicate, especially with a schedule that includes tough road matchups like this one.
Receiver Nate Burleson said the Lions have traveled with an “us-against-the-world” mentality in these situations.
“We embrace that,” Burleson said. “When you’re on the road and you’re constantly getting booed and people are knocking you down every step you make, that’s almost like the life of a Detroit Lion three years ago (when they won two games in two years).
“We appreciate that type of hostility. We go out there and use it for motivation.”
3. Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford can become the first quarterback in NFL history to pass for at least 350 yards in five consecutive games.
Stafford made it four straight with his 355-yard performance against St. Louis, joining New Orleans’ Drew Brees as the only ones to accomplish that feat.
Stafford also can become the first to pass for 2,000 yards over a five-game span. He needs 361 yards to do that.
“It’s cool, I guess,” Stafford said. “It’s not something I set out to do five games ago. Winning, that’s the biggest thing for me.”
Despite his three interceptions last week, Stafford became the first Lion with three career game-winning touchdown passes in the final minute of the fourth quarter.
That should bode well for this week, assuming Stafford is right. He said, “Whoever has the ball last may win this one.”
The 49ers are well aware of Stafford’s late-game magic and the comeback ability of the Lions.
“They are never, ever out of a game,” San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh said. “One of the best things they’ve got going is that never-say-die attitude. There’s plenty of evidence of it on film.”
4. Both teams have a receiver who appears headed to the Hall of Fame.
San Francisco’s Randy Moss, 35, is at the end of his career. Moss (6-foot-4, 210 pounds) has 926 receptions for 14,465 yards and 148 touchdowns in his 14th NFL season. He didn’t play last year.
Detroit’s Calvin Johnson, 26, is in the prime of his career. Johnson (6-5, 236) has 372 catches for 5,983 yards and 49 touchdowns in his sixth year in the league.
The Lions’ Burleson has been teammates with both. He played with Moss in Minnesota.
“When I was playing with Randy, I thought I would never play with another receiver like this, he’s the best I’ve ever seen,” Burleson said. “Now that I’m playing with Calvin, I say, ‘I’ll never play with another receiver like this, he’s the best I’ve ever seen.’
“My opinion? I’m going to have to go with my guy that I’m playing with now. Calvin’s just an absolute monster. He’s a freak of nature. He’s a living legend.
“I’m just fortunate to play Robin to their Batman. I’m going to continue to eat the crumbs off their plates.”
5. The Lions won last week for the first time since 1972 with a minus-three turnover margin.
They won’t be so fortunate under similar circumstances against the opportunistic Niners. It just doesn’t happen very often in the National Football League.
No stat reflects winning or losing more than turnover margin.
That’s one of the top explanations for the 49ers’ success. They haven’t committed a turnover in 26 consecutive quarters going back to last season. They also led the lead in turnover margin a year ago at plus-28.
Quarterback Alex Smith isn’t flashy, but he doesn’t make many mistakes and rarely turns the ball over.
“You’ve got to beat them,” Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. “They don’t beat themselves.”
Cornerback Bill Bentley (concussion) has been ruled out for Sunday’s game, according to the Lions’ official injury report released Friday.
Cornerback Chris Houston (ankle) and safety Louis Delmas (knee) were listed as doubtful.
Defensive tackle Corey Williams (knee) and defensive end Lawrence Jackson (calf) are questionable.