The Detroit Lions kick off their highly anticipated 2014 season Monday night playing host to the New York Giants in what should be a good debut performance for a new coach and plenty of new offensive weapons. After a long offseason session of winter workouts, an exciting draft weekend, the intrigue of mini-camp and training-camp, and four weeks of preseason competition, the Lions now start their season on primetime television for the first time since 1991.
For Lions fans, there is no doubt the last few seasons have each started with a shining sense of optimism, yet somehow managed to underwhelm in some respect. But in spite of how well worn our sense of hope has been, there is something that genuinely feels special about this season. Jim Caldwell is entering his first year in Detroit with two Super Bowl victories along with new lead coordinators Teryl Austin and Joe Lombardi at the helm.
Matthew Stafford is inching towards what will be the start of his prime with athletic additions Golden Tate and Eric Ebron to an already deep weapon corps. And a reshuffled defensive personnel is more disciplined than last year with a stout front four and a secondary that generated seven interceptions throughout the preseason. No doubt Detroit’s locker room features a lot of hard lessons learned, plenty of talent, and endless potential; this Monday night will be fans’ first look at what the Lions will do with all these assets.
Date: Monday, September 8th
Kickoff: 7:10 p.m. ET
Stadium: Ford Field (64,500 capacity)
Television Broadcasting Team: Mike Tirico (Play-By-Play); Jon Gruden (Color); Lisa Salters (Sideline)
Detroit Radio: 97.1 The Ticket WXYT-FM
Radio Broadcasting Team: Dan Miller (Play-By-Play); Jim Brandstatter (Color); Tony Ortiz (Sideline)
Going into the opener the most intriguing player story is Caldwell’s new captain system. Across the NFL it is still most common for teams to name captains as the start of the season and have those players sport the capital “C” on their jerseys for the entire season. The Lions seem to be going directly against that tradition with the announcement that they will rotate their three captain spots each week. Starting off the season will be Matthew Stafford, Stephen Tulloch, and Montell Owens, representing the three phases of the game. Caldwell cited an abundance of leadership in the locker-room as the reason for his decision and said that the choice will be made each week with input from others in the organization.
The new captaincy system along with all of the attention surrounding final cuts has gathered a lot of media attention in recent weeks. Yet what has not been covered very extensively is the litany of notable player milestones that many players have the ability to reach this season.
WR Calvin Johnson: If Johnson registers 99 receptions this season, he will pass WR Herman Moore for the most receptions in franchise history. Johnson enters this season with 572 catches opposed to Moore’s 670, and already owns franchise records for receiving yards (9,328), receiving touchdowns (66), and 100 yard games (39). Additionally, if Johnson has one 200 yard game this season, he will pass Hall of Fame WR Lance Alworth for the most 200 yard games in NFL history with six; Johnson has at least one 200 yard game in each of the past three seasons alone. Finally, with eight touchdowns this season Johnson would reach 75 total touchdowns in his career and subsequently join Hall of Fame RB Barry Sanders as the only other Lions player to have at least 75 career total touchdowns.
QB Matthew Stafford: If Stafford passes for 10 touchdowns this season, he will pass Hall of Fame QB Bobby Layne who has 118 and become the Lions’ all-time touchdown passer with 119. In addition, by throwing 2,543 yards this season, Stafford will reach 20,000 career passing yards and become the first Lions player to do so. Finally, if Stafford throws for at least 4,500 yard this season, it will be his fourth consecutive season reaching that feat (5,038 in 2011, 4,967 in 2012, and 4,650 in 2013).
DT Ndamukong Suh: Suh enters Monday night with 27.5 sacks through 62 career games and can become the Lions’ all-time sack leader for a defensive tackle with just two sacks this season. DT Shaun Rogers currently holds the Lions career sack title for a defensive tackle with 29 through 98 games.
C Dominic Raiola: By simply playing on Monday night, Raiola will play in his now 14th season and tie CB Dick LeBeau for third on the Lions’ all-time list for career seasons played.
The Lions and Giants are both historic NFL franchises with a well worn history playing each other. Since the Lions started in Detroit in 1934 and the Giants were founded in 1925, the two have battled 42 times.
Detroit vs. New York Regular Season Record: 20-20-1
Last Meeting: 12/23/2013; Detroit 20 – New York 23 in OT in Detroit
Record in Detroit: 12-11-1
Record in New York: 8-12-0
Other Game Notes
Starting on Monday night, the Lions will sport an honorary jersey patch displaying the letters “WCF” in respect to the franchise’s late owner, William Clay Ford. Mr. Ford passed away on March 9th of this year at the age of 88, having owned and directed the Lions through 50 years.
The contest also resembles a bit of a revenge match for the Lions, whose loss to New York late last season nullified their chances of reaching the playoffs. Detroit will look to compensate for a game last year where they posted more first downs (24-15), more yards (355-279), and more time of possession (37:45-29:43) yet still lost in overtime on a 45 yard Josh Brown field goal. And while the game may feel personal for Detroit because of last season’s meeting, it surely is personal for a few specific players on the roster. Between the two teams is an uncanny amount of professional connections coming into Monday; Reggie Bush and Giants P Steve Weatherford played together in New Orleans from 2006-2008; Rob Sims and Brown played together in Seattle in 2006 and 2007 while Golden Tate and Giants TE Kellen Davis also played in Seattle in 2013;Glover Quin and Giants S Quintin Demps both played together for Houston from 2011 to 2013; and James Ihedigbo and Giants LB Jameel McClain played in Baltimore together from 2012-2013.
A game featuring two cornerstone NFL franchises, a variety of Detroit players entering the season with chances to make team history, and a lot of recent and personal history certainly makes for a good season opener in prime time. Yet what is most significant about this game is captured in what Jim Caldwell recently said: “I think we have the foundation to be champions, without question.” For Lions fans everywhere, this game will be more than a good week one matchup; it will be their first insight into if this season will be truly special, or yet again more rhetoric from years past.