Dave Birkett Detroit Free Press
Published 11:44 AM EDT Apr 16, 2019
The NFL is set to release its 2019 schedule at 8 p.m. Wednesday, though surely several games will leak ahead of time once team personnel get it in their hands. For now, here’s what we know:
Detroit Lions’ 2019 opponents are set
The NFL has a scheduling format it follows every year that makes knowing the opponents easy. The Lions play home and away against each of their division rivals, the Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears, and face the AFC West and NFC East this season. Because they finished last in their division last year, the Lions also play the last-place team in the NFC West (the Arizona Cardinals) and NFC South (Tampa Bay Buccaneers).
The Lions’ entire home schedule includes games the Packers, Vikings, Bears, Bucs, Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers.
On the road, they face the Packers, Vikings, Bears, Cardinals, Broncos, Raiders, Eagles and Washington.
Thanksgiving rematch in the works
Dates and times for the full schedule will be revealed Wednesday, though one matchup already appears set. In February, Sports Business Daily reported that the Lions will host the Bears in their annual Thanksgiving game.
Last year, the Bears beat the Lions on Thanksgiving, 23-16. Chicago won the NFC North in 2018 and should be a playoff favorite entering the season once again.
For fans, one of the biggest reveals on schedule release day is what games will be played in prime time.
Last year, the Lions had two prime time games in the season’s first three weeks, home games against the New York Jets on a Monday and the New England Patriots on a Sunday night, and nothing beyond that.
The Lions are not a big television draw. They have no star-caliber players on their roster, don’t play in a major media market and are coming off a six-win season. But they do have several games against attractive teams. Along with the Packers and Bears, who tend to be big TV draws for a variety of reasons, the Chiefs, Cowboys and Giants should be network favorites this year because of their teams or hometowns, and the Eagles and Raiders, in their last season in Oakland, also should generate interest.
From the Lions’ standpoint, fans should flock to see the Chiefs (because of Patrick Mahomes) and Cowboys (because they’re the Cowboys) regardless of what day and time the game is played, so the organization might benefit more from playing the Bucs or Chargers in prime time.
What else do we know?
The Packers and Bears will open the NFL’s 100th season in September, and the Oakland A’s host the Tigers at Oakland-Alameda Coliseum on the first weekend of the season, so scratch those games off the list for the Lions’ opener.
The Super Bowl champion New England Patriots are rumored to be playing either the Chiefs or Cowboys in their Sunday night opener as well, so the Lions’ best bet for Week 1 is a game against the Vikings, Bucs, Giants, Chargers, Cardinals, Broncos, Eagles or Washington.
The NFL typically schedules Week 17 games (and often Week 16 games) against division opponents, so expect the Lions to close the year against their NFC North foes.
Beyond that, there will reportedly be three games on the Saturday before Christmas this year, Dec. 21, and the Lions have not played a Thursday game outside of Thanksgiving since 2015, so it could be time for one of those.
Ranking the openers
So who do you want to see the Lions play in their opener? After last year’s rough season, a home game would be a welcome start (though the NFL gift-wrapped the Lions that Jets game last year, and they promptly embarrassed themselves on national TV).
Here’s my ranking of potential Week 1 games, with the understanding that the Chiefs or Cowboys would be an amazing draw if they’re not opening against the Patriots:
1. Giants: The Lions couldn’t get it done against the other New York team last year, but the Giants are terrible. Plus, Saquon Barkley would be fun to watch.
2. Bucs: The Bucs might be worse than the Giants, and the Lions could use a win to start the year.
3. Cardinals: Kyler Murray in his first game, anyone?
4. Washington: A road game, and one that wouldn’t generate any buzz, but still a winnable game.
5. Vikings, home or away: These two teams know each other well, and division games are always fun. One problem: The Vikings usually put a pounding on Matthew Stafford, and that could start the season on the wrong note.
6. Chargers: The Chargers should be one of the NFL’s best teams this year, but better to start the season at Ford Field.
7. Broncos: Going west and playing at altitude could be a challenge after what should be another training camp, but the Broncos aren’t playoff contenders.
8. Eagles: I expect the Eagles to have a bounce-back season with Carson Wentz fully healthy. This is still a good team, and if the Lions travel to Philadelphia in Week 1, their chances of coming home a winner isn’t great.
Contact Dave Birkett at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. Read more on the Detroit Lions and sign up for our Lions newsletter.
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