DETROIT - OCTOBER 16: Jim Harbaugh head coach of the San Francisco 49ers argues with Jim Schwartz of the Detroit Lions during the NFL game at Ford Field on October 16, 2011 in Detroit, Michigan. The 49ers defeated the Lions 25-19. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
Usually the end of the calendar year is the official signal for Detroit Lions fans to turn the page on the current season and start to look ahead to what is in store for the team next season. Since the Lions had been completely out of the playoff picture for the last decade, in the past New Year's was when mock draft talk started heating up and fans attempted to get their hopes up for a turnaround next season.
Thankfully, this year the furthest thing from anybody's mind is the 2012 season. With the Lions in the playoffs, mock drafts and things to look for next season haven't even crossed my mind. Right now the focus is squarely on the playoffs, which is how it should be.
While I am nowhere near ready to shift into offseason or talk-about-next-season mode, I do want to mention that the Lions' 2012 schedule is almost in place, at least in terms of which teams are on it. The Lions' opponents in 2012, as pointed out by John Niyo, are as follows:
In addition to their usual games against fellow NFC North teams, the Lions are set to play the AFC South and the NFC West in 2012. Also, they will take on a team from the NFC South and a team from the NFC East based on where they finish in the standings. Since the Lions will finish in second place in the NFC North, they are already locked in to face the Falcons, the NFC South's second-place team, at home. Which team from the NFC East the Lions take on away from Ford Field next season is to be determined, as second place is still up for grabs in that division.
Overall, the schedule next year seems easier than this season's slate of games. Of course, what teams look like on paper this far away from the season doesn't mean much. Even what teams look like on paper in the preseason doesn't mean much, for that matter. For example, after the Cincinnati Bengals came to town and got walloped by the Lions in the preseason opener, the Bengals looked like they were destined to be one of the league's worst teams. Instead they are in position to make the playoffs. A lot of surprises can happen, obviously.
Glancing at the home schedule, what sticks out to me is that the Texans or Colts will be coming to town on Thanksgiving since the game is going to be on CBS next year. An AFC opponent is required (assuming the new TV contracts don't change things), and Houston and Indy are the only AFC teams on the home schedule. It will be interesting to see which team ends up being selected as the Thanksgiving opponent. Will the NFL go with a talented Texans team or go with a Colts team that could feature Peyton Manning or Andrew Luck at quarterback? The Colts, assuming they return to their winning ways, probably provide a more enticing matchup given the Manning storyline. Of course, perhaps the league won't want to gamble on his health and will play it safe with Houston. In any case, this could be Detroit's best chance to end its Thanksgiving losing streak in some time.
The obvious headliner on the away schedule is the 49ers game. With "handshake-gate" happening earlier this season, the 49ers game next year is already shaping up to be one that will grab a lot of headlines. If the Lions and 49ers meet in the playoffs, you can bet next year's game will receive even more attention. To me, that has the makings of a Sunday night or Monday night game given the storylines that will be sure to surround it.
Aside from the obvious, which matchups on the 2012 schedule stick out to you as being especially intriguing? How many primetime games do you think the Lions will get? And which team would you rather come to town on Turkey Day: Indianapolis or Houston?