Predictions are always dicey at best. So rather than predicting wins and losses this article will instead take the approach of looking into the schedule and revealing some things that the casual observer may not notice at first glance.
Before looking at each individual week lets start with some generalize observations.
The Lions do not have any three game road trips this year and that is a huge relief. Seven teams this year have them and they are really tough to deal with as this article points out. Whew, bullet dodged there!
The next thing to look at is travel distance for away games, which in general is not very favorable for the Lions. Of the eight away games the Lions only close distance opponents are divisional ones, the Bears, Vikings, and Packers. While the Broncos, Cowboys, Saints, and Buccaneers are not extremely long road trips, they are not exactly close either. Factor in a long trip to play the Raiders at the end which will be tough. All in all, teams that play the Lions at home have a much shorter distance to travel than the teams that the Lions travel to play. One can easily see this by checking out the excellent graphical travel map that NFL.com has provided here.
Another thing to look at regarding the away schedule is when the Lions are going to play a given opponent. Since they are a dome team weather and environmental conditions are more likely to be a factor. The first thing that could be an issue is the Sept. 11th game in Tampa Bay. While it can get hot and humid in Michigan it is not quite on par with the heat and humidity that one can face down in Tampa at that time of the year. The next thing that stuck out is the Oct. 30th game in Denver. Everyone knows that the air up there is different and that will pose a unique challenge to the Lions. On Nov 13th the Lions are in Chicago, which could be a nasty outdoor game. Even if it is not snow, it can be cold, windy, and rainy. Worst of all the Lions are in Green Bay on New Years Day and that game reeks of becoming a snow bowl.
The Bye week is always important too. The Lions came out ahead on this one. Not only do they get the bye in the middle of the season, but they also have it splitting two away games to help tone down some of the travel issues. While it may not be ideal, I don't think you would hear any Lions coaches complaining about their bye week this year.
The next factor to look at is the actual opponents. Based on strength of schedule the Lions are tied with seven other team for the one of the hardest schedules in 2011. Their opponents win percentage this year is .520 based off of last years records. Though I am not so sure that this is as big of a factor as some make it out to be, it is another thing that can be looked at. You can see the breakdown of the entire NFL here. If you include the post season record of opponents NFL.com ranks the Lions strength of schedule as the 4th hardest.
The reason that one must be cautious about reading too much into strength of schedule is twofold. First, there is the strength of opponent that a given opponent faced last year. Not everyone played the same competition, so it is not a solid state type of variable to be using. Secondly, adding on to that thought is the "any given Sunday" effect in the NFL. Every week there are upsets, and there is no way to accurately correlate how a given team will play on a given day. Not to mention the somewhat random nature of how injuries will impact a given team in a given year.
At this point lets take a look at each game and see what pertinent information could apply from scheduling alone. Below will be brief look at relevant information to each game and an assessment on if the scheduling will effect the Lions in a positive manner, negative manner, or have no effect on them. Please not that home and away will not be factored in, every team plays home and away games.
Sunday, Sept. 11th, 1:00 pm Lions at Buccaneers (FOX): Unless it is an unusually hot day, the Lions should be used to the climate from all of their organized team activities and training camp. That is if they have those. No effect.
Sunday, Sept. 25th, 1:00 pm Lions at Vikings (FOX): The Vikings previous two games are the Chargers away and the Bucs at home. No effect.
Sunday, Oct. 2nd, 1:00 pm Lions at Cowboys (FOX): The Lions will be away for the 2nd week in a row. The Cowboys start the season on at the Jets, at the 49ers, and then come home to play the Redskins on Monday night the week prior to this game. The Lions might be road weary but after the Cowboys travel and face a tough division opponent they are likely to be just as weary. The Cowboys may also be looking ahead to the bye week after this game. Positive.
Monday, Oct. 10th, 8:30 pm Bears at Lions (ESPN): The Lions should be hyped up for this one, their first Monday night game since 2001, then again they do have a tendency to flop in front of a national audience. The Bears play the Panthers the week before and may come in a bit flat. Positive.
Sunday, Oct. 16th, 1:00 pm 49ers at Lions (FOX): The Lions Monday night game the previous week will provide two challenges here. Not only do the Lions need to operate on a short week, but guard against an emotional let down as well. The 49ers have a long travel distance here to help offset some of the Lions challenges, but not all of them. Negative
Sunday, Oct. 23rd, 1:00 pm Falcons at Lions (FOX): The Falcons play the Panthers the week before and have a bye week they may be looking ahead to. Positive.
Sunday, Oct. 30th, 4:05 pm Lions at Broncos (FOX): The Lions are going to be sucking wind in this game as they are not used to the high altitude of Denver. They also might be looking ahead to their bye next week. Negative.
Sunday, Nov. 13th, 1:00 pm Lions at Bears (FOX): The Lions should be coming into this one rested and refocused. Weather could be a factor against the Lions this week. The Bears will be coming off of a Monday night game against the Eagles. No effect.
Sunday, Nov. 20th, 1:00 pm Panthers at Lions (FOX): No effect.
Thursday, Nov. 24th, 12:30 pm Packers at Lions (FOX): The Lions could come out a bit flat if the Panthers are not much improved this year. The Packers will be traveling after playing the Bucs on Sunday and should have issues being ready for this one. Positive.
Sunday, Dec. 4th, 1:00 pm Lions at Saints (FOX): The Lions should be well rested coming in off the Thanksgiving Day game. Positive.
Sunday, Dec. 11th, 1:00 pm Vikings at Lions (FOX): No effect.
Sunday, Dec. 18th, 4:05 pm Lions at Raiders (FOX): The Lions will have a long travel distance here. However so will the Raiders as they are away against the Dolphins and Packers prior to this game. Positive.
Saturday, Dec. 24th, 4:05 pm Chargers at Lions (CBS): The Lions will be playing on a short week and coming home from the west coast. However the Chargers will have an even shorter week and be traveling from the west coast too as they host the Ravens the week before for a Sunday night game. Positive.
Sunday, Jan. 1st, 1:00 pm Lions at Packers (FOX): The Lions will be in extreme weather conditions here. The Packers will be on their 2nd week in a row at home in the elements. Negative.
In conclusion one could look at the Lions schedule and think that it is horrible, but upon looking deeper there are far more positives to be found than negatives. Perhaps the most worrisome aspect of the schedule is that last game against Green Bay in Lambeau Field. If the Lions are as competitive as many expect them to be this season a lot could be riding on that game. However there is plenty of opportunities for the Lions to take care of their business long before that game.