The Detroit Lions rode into the 2012 season with high expectations and dreams of a deep playoff run, while the Minnesota Vikings staggered in, still reeling from a 3-13 showing the year before. So which team reached the postseason with a 10-6 record and which stumbled to a four-win season? I think you know where this is going.
After trending up the previous two seasons, the Lions face-planted last year while the Vikings went on an unexpected run to finish second in the NFC North. They'll both get a chance to get 2013 started off on the right foot when they take each other on this Sunday from Ford Field in Detroit.
Meet the Lions
After posting monster numbers in 2011 (5,038 yards and 41 touchdowns), Matthew Stafford took a step backwards last season, cutting his touchdown passes in half and increasing his interceptions. He'll need to reverse that trend if he hopes to push the Lions back into the playoffs, and will rely heavily on the game's top receiver, Calvin Johnson, to do so. During the offseason, Reggie Bush moved from South Beach to Motown, where he'll provide a dynamic playmaking ability at the running back position that Detroit has been missing over the last few seasons.
The Vikings will certainly look to pound the ball inside with Adrian Peterson, but that will be no easy task against a Lions interior that is as stout as any in the league. Defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley are a dominant duo, and C.J. Mosely provides valuable depth behind them.
Meet the Vikings
Whether Adrian Peterson will be able to reproduce his jaw-dropping performance in 2012 has been a hot topic of debate, but betting against a man who bounced back from an ACL tear to come within nine yards of the all-time season rushing record doesn't seem like a smart move. Peterson will get his this year -- it will be the play of quarterback Christian Ponder that will ultimately decide whether or not this team can improve upon last season. While Ponder loses an explosive target in receiver Percy Harvin, Greg Jennings's arrival from Green Bay should sufficiently fill the void.
The Vikings' biggest offseason change to its defense was parting ways with Antoine Winfield, one of the top run-defending corners in the league. Chris Cook and Harrison Smith will need to step up in the secondary to help breach the gap. With his contract set to expire at the end of the season, All Pro defensive end Jared Allen could be entering his last year in Minnesota.
Local Takes: Lions
We know that the Lions hold the biggest receiving threat in the league in Calvin Johnson, but Sean Yuille at Pride of Detroit is concerned about the drop-off in the remainder of the team's pass catchers.
Johnson is the best player on the team, but the talent behind him seems pretty iffy. [Nate] Burleson had a pretty weak preseason, and [Ryan] Broyles is still working his way back from the torn ACL he suffered last season. [Patrick] Edwards made the team after a strong training camp, and [Kris] Durham was kept over Matt Willis for whatever reason.
Local Takes: Vikings
I have a feeling that Ponder's leash is going to be much shorter this year with Cassel behind him on the depth chart than it was last year with Joe Webb as the No. 2 quarterback. As we saw in the playoff game at Green Bay last season, Webb isn't a traditional NFL quarterback, while Cassel is a guy who can run a pro-style offense efficiently (or at least has in the past). The Vikings think they have the ability to improve on their 10-6 record from last year, and in keeping with that, if Ponder struggles I think you'll see Matt Cassel.
Follow the Fun
Add these fine follows to your Twitter timeline:
Just got tripped up at the 1-yard line with Calvin Johnson. This game is definitely realistic. #Madden25— Pride Of Detroit (@PrideOfDetroit) September 3, 2013
@davebirkett - Lions beat writer
#Lions reached an injury settlement with LB Jon Morgan yesterday. Had a good preseason, always could return on PS later in the year.— Dave Birkett (@davebirkett) September 6, 2013
@Andrew_Krammer - Vikings beat writer
Last year, #Vikings opened in nickel vs DET: Calvin has 5 rec, 54yds [W4]. Six weeks later, open in base w/o C. Cook: 12 rec, 207yds, TD— Andrew Krammer (@Andrew_Krammer) September 6, 2013
Pete Prisco at CBS Sports is picking the Lions to win, 31-28.
Expect the Vikings to do what they do, which is to pound Adrian Peterson into the Lions front. That front will be much improved. The Vikings will have to throw it here if they want to keep up. Chrisitan Ponder has some new weapons, and he has to be better. The Lions will be good in the passing game again, but can they protect Matt Stafford? I like a lot of points here.
The Lions are favored by 2½ points and as much as 5½ points from some books, according to Oddsshark.