It's the season opener and there's plenty of mystery. Detroit News reporters John Niyo and Justin Rogers break down what we know and what we don't. Justin Rogers, The Detroit News
The predictions are in, and it’s pretty simple: The national media hates the Lions and the local writers all see this team as mediocre at worst.
We’ll find out soon enough who is right as — for better or worse — Lions football is back.
“Must-win” is a drastic label for Week 1, but with the tough upcoming slate (vs. Chargers, at Eagles, vs. Chiefs, at Packers, vs. Vikings), the Lions would be served to take care of business at Arizona, even if it’s ugly.
With much of the focus the week on the rookies, here are five things to watch in Sunday’s matchup at Arizona (4:25 p.m., Fox/760):
1. Debut doom?
We all remember what Sam Darnold did to the Lions in his first career game, and many remember Matt Ryan similarly filleting the Lions in the 2008 opener en route to Detroit’s Season From Hell. But did you also know Steve Young’s first career game was a 19-16 win for Tampa Bay against Detroit in 1985? However, other than those three, the Lions have been perfect against debuting quarterbacks, topping the sextet of Green Bay’s Tobin Rote (1950), Chicago’s Zeke Bratkowski (1954), Los Angeles Rams’ Terry Baker (1963), Chicago’s Bobby Douglass (1969), Cleveland’s Will Cureton (1975) and Arizona’s John Navarre (2004). Is Kyler Murray more like Tobin and Zeke, or Matt and Steve?
2. Tavai’s the guy
Officially questionable, it seems like linebacker Jarrad Davis (ankle) will not be playing in the opener, leaving plenty of snaps and potentially a start for second-round pick Jahlani Tavai in his debut.
Paul Pasqualoni would love to have worked the Hawaii product in slowly this season, but the rookie will instead be tasked with slowing running back David Johnson all afternoon in an offense nobody knows much about.
Welcome to the NFL.
3. '90s nostalgia
If Arizona coach Kliff Kingsbury’s offense looks familiar, it’s because elements of the Air Raid attack are similar to the Lions run-and-shoot plan from the 1990s.
The Cardinals are carrying seven wide receivers and just two tight ends, so look for some 10 personnel (four wide receivers, one running back, no tight ends), with Larry Fitzgerald, Christian Kirk, Michael Crabtree and KeeSean Johnson all getting a taste.
4. Old friends
Detroit's Damon Harrison and Mike Daniels have been friends since their college days, when Daniels was a star defensive tackle at Iowa and “Snacks” was at nearby William Penn in the NAIA.
They’ll be teammates on Sunday for the first time in a regular-season game, going up against a young Arizona offensive line that’s expected to be among the league’s worst.
The orders for the Lions’ pair? Make Tavai’s life as easy as possible in his debut, while making Murray’s day difficult in his first start.
5. Murphy’s moment
A classic “Local Boy Does Good” story is playing out in Arizona with rookie cornerback Byron Murphy of Scottsdale, a second-round pick.
He’ll draw either Kenny Golladay or Marvin Jones Jr. on Sunday, a tough assignment for the 21-year-old in his first foray in front of the home fans.
Set your fantasy lineups accordingly.
Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.