In eager anticipation of the 2013 NFL season, Baltimore Sun blogger and reporter Matt Vensel will take a daily look at one of the 13 opponents on the Ravens' regular-season schedule. Today is the Detroit Lions.
The Ravens will make their only "Monday Night Football" appearance of the season in Week 15 against the Detroit Lions. The Lions are one of the toughest teams to project entering this season. In 2011, quarterback Matthew Stafford and the Lions passed their way to a 10-6 record before being outgunned by Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints in the playoffs. In 2012, the Lions won just four games. Will they be more like the 2011 or the 2012 Lions or something in between? We will know when the Ravens travel to Detroit in December.
Recapping 2012: After a 1-3 start, the Lions won three of their next four games to get back into the playoff picture. But then the wheels fell off. The Lions, who ranked 17th in scoring offense and 27th in points allowed, lost their final eight games, six of which were against eventual playoff teams, to finish last in the NFC North. If they are looking for silver linings, Stafford threw for 4,967 yards and Calvin Johnson broke Jerry Rice's NFL single-season yardage mark. But 2012 was a major disappointment for a franchise that had been on the rise.
Cha-cha-changes: The Lions lost defensive end Cliff Avril, linebacker Justin Durant and offensive tackle Gosder Cherilus in free agency, but made a pair of significant free agent signings in running back Reggie Bush and safety Glover Quin. Bush, a dual threat, could be a very productive player in Detroit. The Lions also brought in kicker David Akers to replace Jason Hanson, who has retired. The Lions drafted nine players in April, starting with BYU defensive end Ziggy Ansah, a raw prospect who some analysts say is not ready to contribute right away.
The skinny: Head coach Jim Schwartz is on the hot seat entering 2013. The Lions have talent but they have been undisciplined on and off the field and they took a major step backward in 2012. Schwartz is also still trying to turn the defense, led by Ndamukong Suh, into a top-10 unit. Still, any team that has a strong-armed quarterback like Stafford and a freak of nature like Johnson on the other end of those passes will be a threat to win every week. And if Bush can breathe some life into the running game, the Lions should get back to having a top-10 offense.
Recent history: The Ravens and the Lions have played just three times, most recently in 2009, the last time the Ravens were matched with the NFC North. The Ravens won, 48-3, at home in that game. Daunte Culpepper was Detroit's starting quarterback then and their leading receiver that day was the immortal Dennis Northcutt. Four Ravens rushed for touchdowns in the rout.
Degree of difficulty: Like I said, it's tough to predict what the Lions will look like this season, but they do have some impressive athletes at key positions and won 10 games just two seasons ago. This game is a Monday night showcase game in Detroit, so advantage Lions there. But even if the Lions are solid this season, I still like the Ravens in this one. Degree of difficulty is five out of 10.