With the recent release of the Detroit Lions preseason schedule, the excitement is palpable in the Motor City.
It’s official. The Detroit Lions 2017 preseason schedule has been released, and Lions fans are abuzz with anticipation. While the August slate of games may be seen as “meaningless” to some, football is a perennial obsession for passionate fans in Detroit.
With that in mind, the Lions have a number of interesting opponents on the docket, and there are many reasons why this level of elation is justified. Let’s break down their preseason schedule to see what lies ahead.
Week 1: at Indianapolis Colts
While it stands to reason that the starters will only see the field for a series or two when the Lions visit the Indianapolis Colts, the prospect of seeing Matthew Stafford and Andrew Luck face off is always enticing. After the Lions’ 39-35 comeback win over the Colts on opening weekend last season, the interest is even greater. Of course, the game won’t provide that sort of exhilaration this time around but ultimately, in the first week of the preseason, the thrill of having football back outweighs any potential storylines.
With that said, the greatest selling point of this game for Lions fans, is the opportunity to see the team’s draft picks in NFL action for the very first time. This contest will also provide an excellent chance to watch Jake Rudock under center, as he works to solidify his role as the backup quarterback of the future.
Week 2: vs. New York Jets
The Lions frequently face the New York Jets in the preseason, but that doesn’t mean there is a lack of intrigue surrounding this game. The Jets are coming off a disastrous 5-11 season in 2016 and are looking to get back to the winning ways they enjoyed in 2015. In a contest where the starters should see a reasonable amount of playing time, they will be looking to make a statement against a playoff team like the Lions.
While the Lions-Colts game in Week 1 features an exciting quarterback matchup, Week 2 represents a very different scenario. In fact, it’s entirely possible that the Jets’ starting quarterback isn’t even on the roster as of yet.
Will the team spend the sixth overall pick of the 2017 NFL Draft on a potential franchise quarterback like Deshaun Watson or Mitchell Trubisky? Could they add to their already crowded backfield with a blue chip running back prospect like Leonard Fournette? In the absence of any storyline between these two teams, this could be the first chance Lions fans have to get a look at a future star in the making, and that alone makes this one worth watching.
This is the big one. Week 3 of the preseason is always the game where teams feature their starters for an entire half, or in some cases, even longer. This is the week that is looked at as the “dress rehearsal” for the regular season, and the Lions couldn’t face any stiffer competition than the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.
While the Lions haven’t defeated the Pats in the regular season since 2000, they have proven to be much more successful against Tom Brady and company in the preseason. In fact, the Lions soundly defeated the five-time Super Bowl champions 34-10 in 2011 and 40-9 in 2013. Yes, these games may not count for anything, but a convincing win against the football dynasty of the 21st century is always a big deal. Preseason or not, the atmosphere at Ford Field should be electric for this game.
Week 4: at Buffalo Bills
The Buffalo Bills, another regular preseason opponent of the Lions, are in a unique position entering 2017. With a new head coach in Sean McDermott, they are looking to break out of the middle of the back and establish themselves in the AFC East. Sharing a division with the Patriots, they are certainly in tough in a situation, but they are hungry to take the next step forward as a franchise.
Both team’s starters will play sparingly (if at all) in this contest, but Week Four is often when players fighting for a roster spot make their strongest case for the “final 53.” Look no further than the Lions’ 2016 breakout pass rusher, Kerry Hyder. According to Pro Football Focus, Hyder led the NFL with 17 quarterback pressures last preseason, 12 of which came in Week 4 against (you guessed it) the Bills.
Clearly, Hyder’s strong play in these in these contests solidified his place on the team, and he would go on to lead the Lions with eight sacks in 2016. Therein lies the true value of preseason football. The games may not be relevant to the standings at all, but they provide fringe roster players an opportunity to succeed in the NFL.
While the excitement of regular season football may seem far out of reach at the moment, the preseason serves as a delicious appetizer to the meaningful main course. To be certain, there is an entire offseason of activity ahead, but the release of the schedule is a gentle reminder that football remains on the menu, in the not-so-distant future.