ALLEN PARK, Mich. – One way the Detroit Lions can take another step forward and become one of the elite teams in the NFL, perhaps even seriously contend for their first Super Bowl ever, is by becoming a more dominant team at home.
The Ford Field crowd seemingly became quite an advantage at times for the Lions last season en route to the franchise’s first playoff berth in 12 years.
The noise was so deafening, it forced a team like the Chicago Bears into false start after false start.
But the Lions finished 5-3 at home – good, but not great – losing to playoff teams such as Green Bay, San Francisco and Atlanta in their downtown Detroit stadium.
Consider the home records for some of the league’s other top teams – Green Bay 8-0, New Orleans 8-0, Baltimore 8-0, San Francisco 7-1, Pittsburgh 7-1 and New England 7-1.
That’s what the Lions need to do in 2012 to keep this revival rolling.
They won five road games a year ago, which was impressive, but that’s going to be difficult to match with trips this season to San Francisco, Philadelphia, Green Bay and Chicago on the schedule.
Clean up at Ford Field. That’s what these Lions need to do.
Run the table. One loss tops. Definitely not three.
Otherwise, a second straight playoff berth will be difficult to deliver.
The Lions appear capable of handling four of their eight Ford Field opponents with ease. The first three home games against St. Louis (Sept. 9), Minnesota (Sept. 30) and Seattle (Oct. 28) shouldn’t be much of a problem, at least on paper, not to mention a Dec. 2 date against Indianapolis.
Here are the four that are likely to make the difference: Green Bay (Nov. 18), Houston (Nov. 22), Atlanta (Dec. 22) and Chicago (Dec. 30).
To win the NFC North – and possibly host a playoff game – the Lions are going to have to breakthrough against Green Bay sooner or later.
The Lions have lost five of the last six to the Packers in Detroit, not to mention 20 straight on the road.
Houston will be a tough match-up, coming on Thanksgiving Day, just four days after the showdown with the Packers.
Atlanta will be a payback opportunity for the Lions after the Falcons walked off with a 23-16 victory a year ago, a week after Detroit had lost another home game to San Francisco.
Chicago also will be challenge. The Bears were in contention for a playoff spot last year before injuries to quarterback Jay Cutler and running back Matt Forte ruined their season.
“You always want to win all your games at home,” center Dominic Raiola said. “You never want to give yourself, ‘Oh, we’ve got to go 6-2 or … 7-1 at home. You try to win every game, but especially home games, to take advantage of that great home-field advantage we have.”
Receiver Nate Burleson said: “The fans, they went crazy last year. They showed up in a big way. We’ve got to be dominant at home so the fans can continue to be a factor.”
Burleson is a former Seattle Seahawk, where the “12th man” home crowd is considered one of, if not the best in the NFL.
“The 12th man in Seattle was something special,” he said. “I honestly believe here in Detroit, we can be just as powerful. Last year, we saw glimpses of them giving us an advantage, just being so loud, the other team couldn’t hear themselves.