Every game during an NFL season is important, but there are some with much larger impacts, both long-term and short-term.
Over the course of the Detroit Lions’ 2019 campaign, there were a few of these such games. Perhaps the height of the season was their loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 4. While a loss obviously hurts from a standings perspective, it was a significant result for the team. Keeping pace with the eventual Super Bowl champions was a great test for the Lions, a team desperate for a playoff shot. With the bye week ahead of them, and two important divisional battles after that, there was optimism.
Of course, the next game versus the Packers would also turn out to be an important battle. For the sake of my own bitterness, I will not linger of the refereeing of that game, but the loss crushed the hope that was achieved from the Chiefs loss. The season really went downhill after that, with a lone win against the hapless New York Giants to close the season.
The week after that lone win featured a game against the Oakland Raiders, and it proved to be perhaps the most important game of the entire season. Matthew Stafford suffered a back injury in the contest, throwing the rest of the season into chaos. Additionally, there are long-term concerns about Stafford’s health, and it could mark a turning point in this era of Detroit football.
Of course, injuries are hard to predict, and when looking at the schedule ahead, you can’t pinpoint a game and determine how an injury will change the fortunes of the teams involved.
What we can (try) to predict is which games will be important for the season. Coming into the 2019 season, a majority of people knew the first stretch of four games — at Cardinals, vs. Chargers, at Eagles, and vs. Chiefs — would be instrumental for the success of the season. The Lions came out of it with a 2-1-1 record. Of course, the rest of the season did not go as smoothly.
Today’s Question of the Day is:
What will be the Lions’ most important game in 2020?
My answer: I believe that the Week 4 match versus the New Orleans Saints will the most important game of the season.
While late season games have a tendency to be more important, for the sake of a playoff push or draft position, this early game could be crucial to determining which Detroit Lions we will get in 2020. The New Orleans Saints are arguably one of the top teams in the league heading into the season, with an explosive offense and a talented defense. This matchup will be similar to the Lions’ game versus the Chiefs in 2019. The Lions need to prove that they can compete against the league’s best.
The Lions will face some difficult foes, including back-to-back games against the Tennessee Titans and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but they come quite late in the season, and the Lions’ fate could already be decided by then. If they are playoff contenders, though, it will be a difficult gauntlet for them. Elsewhere, NFC North games are always important, but this year could feature a lot of toss-ups. There isn’t a clear front runner in the division, which could be beneficial to the Lions.
I don’t predict the Saints game to be a win—I don’t think many would predict that—but it needs to be a good loss. They need to take it to the wire. Their defense needs to show some resistance. The offense needs to go step-for-step with Drew Brees and company. This will set the tone for the entire season. This season could be a boom-or-bust for the current regime, and this Saints game could be the first step towards success or the end.