The Detroit Lions open the season on Monday Night Football for the first time in more than four decades and then close it with back-to-back road games against division rivals Chicago and Green Bay.
The opener will be on September 8 against the New York Giants, the third true Monday night game at Ford Field in the last four years. The last time they opened on Monday was in 1971 at old Tiger Stadium.
Other schedule highlights include former coach Jim Schwartz, now the defensive coordinator for Buffalo, making a visit on October 5.
Meanwhile, after losing nine straight Thanksgiving Day games, the Lions will try to win their second in a row when the Bears come to town on November 27. The Buffalo game had previously been rumored as the Turkey Day game, but that proved to be false.
The Lions are coming off a 7-9 season that led to the firing of Schwartz, who was replaced by former Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell.
Detroit plays all four AFC East teams this year (New England, New York Jets, Miami and Buffalo) and also all four NFC South teams (Carolina, New Orleans, Atlanta and Tampa Bay).
In addition, because the Lions finished in third place in their division last season, they will also face the third-place team from the NFC East (New York Giants) and third-place team from the NFC West (Arizona).
The other six games are comprised of the annual home-and-home series against the three teams from their division.
Those 16 opponents (counting Green Bay, Chicago and Minnesota twice) had a combined record last year that was four games below .500.
Here’s a week-by-week breakdown, with a way-too-early prediction for each game that is subject to change (opponents’ 2013 records are in parenthesis):
Vs. New York Giants (7-9)
Monday September 8, 7:10 p.m.
It’s Caldwell’s debut and also a payback opportunity for the Lions. They lost in overtime to the Giants last season in Week 16, a game that eliminated them from the playoffs.
At Carolina (12-4)
Sunday September 14, 1 p.m.
The Panthers, led by quarterback Cam Newton, are one of four playoff teams on the Lions’ schedule. The others are Green Bay, New Orleans and New England.
Vs. Green Bay (8-7-1)
Sunday September 21, 1 p.m.
There’s an asterisk next to that Lions’ victory over the Packers last year because Aaron Rodgers didn’t play. This one looks like a very early need-to-win game for Detroit’s division-title hopes.
At New York Jets (8-8)
Sunday September 28, 1 p.m.
Jets coach Rex Ryan is running out of time. He needs to get his team back to the playoffs after three straight mediocre seasons. A home loss to the Lions will be costly in the end.
Vs. Buffalo (6-10)
Sunday October 5, 1 p.m.
Schwartz, who had a 29-52 record in five years as the Lions’ coach (including one playoff loss), isn’t likely to receive a warm welcome back. In his last game at Ford Field, he was seen yelling at the crowd for booing.
At Minnesota (5-10-1)
Sunday October 12, 1 p.m.
They’ll be playing in the Vikings’ new stadium, which is just fine with the Lions, who lost 15 of their last 16 trips to the old Metrodome.
Vs. New Orleans (11-5)
Sunday October 19, 1 p.m.
Offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, an assistant coach for the last seven years with the Saints, will go up against his former team.
Vs. Atlanta (4-12) – in London
Sunday October 26, 9:30 a.m.
The game is an afternoon start in London, but around here it will be Breakfast with the Lions. It’s all part of the NFL’s international series and counts as a home game for the Falcons.
Bye (automatically falls this year on the week following the London trip).
Vs. Miami (8-8)
Sunday November 9, 1 p.m.
This will be a potential homecoming for two former Lions, safety Louis Delmas and offensive tackle Jason Fox, both of whom signed as free agents with the Dolphins.
At Arizona (10-6)
Sunday November 16, 4:25 p.m.
A quirk in the schedule sends the Lions to Arizona for the third straight season. They lost 38-10 in 2012 and 25-21 last season.
At New England (12-4)
Sunday November 23, 1 p.m.
The last time the Lions faced former Michigan quarterback Tom Brady, he passed for 341 yards and four touchdowns in a Thanksgiving Day rout.
Vs. Chicago (8-8)
Thursday November 27, 12:30 p.m.
Defensive end Willie Young, who spent his first four years with Detroit, is sleeping with the enemy now. He became an unrestricted free agent and signed with Chicago.
Vs. Tampa Bay (4-12)
Sunday December 7, 1 p.m.
The Buccaneers have a new coach, Lovie Smith, and defensive coordinator, Leslie Frazier, who are very familiar with the Lions. Both are former NFC North coaches — Smith in Chicago, Frazier with Minnesota.
Vs. Minnesota (5-10-1)
Sunday December 14, 1 p.m.
The Lions still haven’t established a dominant home-field advantage despite their vocal fan base. They were 4-4 at Ford Field last year, 2-6 in 2012. Even when they went to the playoffs three years ago, they were just 5-3 at home.
At Chicago (8-8)
Sunday December 21, 1 p.m.
The Bears lost at home last year in a rare series sweep for the Lions. This will be a tough one for Detroit in potential inclement weather with the loser possibly getting eliminated from the postseason.
At Green Bay (8-7-1)
Sunday December 28, 1 p.m.
The Lions have lost 23 straight road games against the Packers, including 20 at Lambeau Field. The streak has to end one of the years, right? How many years have we said that?
The Lions also confirmed the dates of their preseason games. The two at home will be on Saturday, August 9 against Cleveland (7:30 p.m.) and Friday, August 22 against Jacksonville (7:30 p.m.) The two road games are Friday, August 15 at Oakland (10 p.m.) and Thursday, August 28 at Buffalo (7 p.m.)