The winless, undefeated Lions return home after a disappointing tie in Arizona to battle the Chargers. We take a look at the matchup. Justin Rogers, The Detroit News
Two weeks into the Lions season, are we 2-for-2 on “must-win games”?
At the risk of delving into self-parody, the 27-27 opening-game tie at Arizona means two things: First, it puts more pressure on Detroit to get wins in the brutal five-game, which begins Sunday and continues with Philadelphia, Kansas City, Green Bay and Minnesota.
But also, a tie isn’t a loss. Emotions and pent-up Lionsy angst aside, a road tie isn’t going to be the reason this Lions season goes one way or another.
The season isn’t over. But without a quick course correction in the next month, it could be.
Here are five things to watch in Sunday’s matchup against the Los Angeles Chargers (1 p.m., CBS/760), the home opener:
1. Vegas knows?
Picking against West Coast teams going east for early games is an old gambler's trick that’s long been snuffed out by the oddsmakers. Week 1 featured only one West Coast team headed east, with the Los Angeles Rams beating Carolina 30-27, narrowly covering a 2.5-point spread.
Speaking of spreads, a 2-point number on Sunday in favor of the visitors suggests Las Vegas thinks the Lions have a chance: This is a 6-10 team projected to win 6.5 games — with the Week 1 tie, Vegas might actually hit that on the nose — against a 12-4 team projected to win 9.5.
Even though the Chargers are on the road, shouldn’t they be more than a field goal favorite against Detroit? What does Vegas know?
2. Dumb luck
For the second straight week, injuries and outside circumstances have overwhelmingly benefited the Lions.
Detroit avoided Arizona’s top two cornerbacks, including star Patrick Peterson, and now avoid holdout running back Melvin Gordon in Week 2.
On top of that, tight end Hunter Henry, strong safety Derwin James and left tackle Russell Okung are out, and wide receiver Mike Williams and cornerback Michael Davis might join them, among others — including the kicker!
Sure, every NFL team has injuries, but the Chargers are particularly unlucky on this front most years, and the Lions have benefited so far.
It’s time for the Lions to start feasting on backups, and exploit those positions where their opponents are vulnerable.
3. Handling Hock
T.J. Hockenson was the biggest bright spot for the Lions last week, setting the NFL record for receiving yards for a debuting tight end with 131 yards.Well, guess what, the secret is now out.
Being the No. 8 pick in the draft, Hockenson’s talent was evident to everyone. But by Darrell Bevell and the Detroit offense showcasing Hockenson so much in Week 1, defenses will now start to key on the rookie.
Gus Bradley leads the Chargers’ defense, a unit that has been stingy against tight ends, ranking seventh and 12th in containing a tight ends fantasy output in Bradley’s first two years in Los Angeles, respectively.
4. Fan fervor?
Ford Field has rocked. It has happened before.
But this season, and Matt Patricia’s tenure as Lions coach, is on shaky ground and could fly off the rails at any moment.
To get the fans to buy in, if just for an afternoon, a nice start Sunday is paramount.
I’ve seen Sunday companions fall asleep (no, not pass out) at Ford Field and tagalongs have been known to bring books in on Sundays for quiet reading sessions late in lost seasons.
Detroit needs the fan base to turn Ford Field into a true home-field advantage, which is can be.
So which is it: Lions Den or Library? It’s up to the team to decide.
5. Double Decker?
Lions left tackle Taylor Decker, if he plays through his back injury, can’t have a repeat of his nightmare Week 1 in the desert.
Further complicating matters is Decker’s former Ohio State teammate Joey Bosa, who has an array of pass-rush moves and elite burst off the edge across the line of scrimmage for LA.
Fans around here are used to having Ohio State ruin their Saturdays, but unless one Buckeye is able to contain another on Sunday, the Detroit Lions could take another step toward a long fall.
Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.