Sunday, September 11, 2011

On Tap: Lions at Buccaneers

Week 1 is underway in the NFL. Detroit heads to Tampa Bay to take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

This game is a test for both teams who are considered on the rise. Tampa Bay went 10-6 in 2010, but missed the playoffs thanks to a late season surge by the Lions who won their final four games to go 6-10.

Tampa Bay's long-term future looks promising with 3rd year QB Josh Freeman. Freeman isn't flashy, but he makes few mistakes. RB LaGarrette Blount and WR Mike Williams were very productive rookies last year and TE Kellen Winslow is the perfect safety net for Freeman. Davin Joseph is an elite guard and will have his hands full with Ndamukong Suh.

But I suspect Tampa Bay will take a step back this year. It's not uncommon for teams in the NFL to pop up one year, fall back the next, and make a bigger splash the next year. Tampa Bay looks like one of those teams.

Detroit is back with Matt Stafford at QB. So far, Freeman has had the better career, but there's more upside to Stafford if he can avoid being upside down. Or just stay upside. Whatever. They face DT Gerald McCoy (selected right after Suh in the 2010 Draft) and CB Aqib Talib who didn't play against the Lions last December.

Detroit's running attack has been hindered with the loss of rookie Mikel Leshoure, but last year they had Maurice Morris and Jahvid Best who will both be in the game as the team's 1-2 tandem. They've also cut FB Jerome Felton as they plan on using TE Will Heller as an H-back while going with a base 2-TE offense.

The key for Detroit is the passing game. WRs Calvin Johnson and Nate Burleson are the starters and rookie WR Titus Young is the third WR. Johnson could be the best WR in the NFL, but he'll need help from his other WRs if he can get more one-on-one matchups and not be double- and triple-covered all afternoon. Young is struggling, thanks to a hamstring injury that limited almost all of training camp. But their fourth WR, Maurice Stovall, had such an outstanding training camp, that he could supplant Young before the season's out, or maybe become part of an elite receiving corps with Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler as the two TEs .

The Lions' aren't Green Bay, yet. I'm still worried about the O-Line. Jeff Backus and Dominic Raiola are entering their 11th seasons with Detroit. They aren't getting younger, but last year, Backus was finally starting to receive recognition despite having never been to a Pro Bowl. We'll have to see how RT Gosder Cherilus has recovered from his microfracture injury to his right knee and if Stephen Peterman can stay healthy. As of now, LG Rob Sims is the only sure bet on the line.

Backus received most the blame for Stafford's AC separation last year at the opener against Chicago. He allowed Julius Peppers to blow right by him and he nailed Stafford, giving him a third-degree AC Separation. If Backus and the rest of the line can protect Stafford and create holes for the RBs, this team will make some noise.

This game will be close.

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Lions 23
Bucs 20

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