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NFL Preview - Detroit (0-0) at Tampa Bay (0-0)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - If the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Detroit Lions were publicly- traded stocks instead of privately-owned football franchises, they'd both be the talk of CNBC, not ESPN.
And the smart-money advice for both teams, which will face one another at Raymond James Stadium on the eve of the 2011 season -- Buy.
Prediction shares of the Bucs and Lions were available for mere pennies following a 2009 season in which they combined for just five wins, but forecasts for both shot up prodigiously over 16 games in 2010, when the tandem's victory total grew more than three times to 16.
Tampa Bay went from worst to almost first in the NFC's South Division, making an individual leap from three wins to 10 and getting within an eyelash of a Wild Card postseason berth that was ultimately captured by New Orleans and Green Bay -- which wound up with 11 and 10 victories, respectively.
The Bucs wound up third in the four-team South, three games behind first-place Atlanta and a game behind the Saints. It was their second season under coach Raheem Morris, who'd been the target of initial derision after replacing Jon Gruden before turning heads -- and minds -- as the turnaround took hold.
"After the first year (2009), it was ridiculous," Tampa Bay tight end Kellen Winslow said. "We went 3-13 and guys don't understand that it takes time sometimes. [Morris] is a special dude. There is nobody else like him in the league. The only other coach I can think of off the bat is [Jets coach] Rex Ryan.
"[The Buccaneers' coaches] just don't care what other people think. It's all about the guys on their team. We believe in that dude. We'll die for that dude. That's how much we love him."
Detroit, meanwhile, has been on a two-year rise since being the NFL's equivalent of the Great Depression, when the Lions became the first team in league history to lose each and every contest of a 16-game season.
They chose University of Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford with the first pick in the 2009 draft and baby-stepped to two wins, before tripling the count to six under comparatively anonymous sideline boss Jim Schwartz -- another soon-to-be third-year coach -- last season.
Stafford has been effective when healthy, though he's made just 13 of a possible 32 starts while throwing for 19 touchdowns and 2,802 yards. Veteran backup Shaun Hill was actually a near full-time starter in 2010, playing in 11 games and completing 61.8 percent of his throws for 16 scores and 12 interceptions.
But when it comes to a long-range guess on the Lions' 2011 trajectory, don't ask Schwartz.
"We're sort of a blue-collar team," he said. "We're just going to go to work that day and try to have a good day today and go have a good day tomorrow, and if we do that then Sunday will probably take care of itself. And if we do that every Sunday, then the end of the season will take care of itself."
The Lions hold a 28-25 edge in their all-time regular-season series with Tampa Bay and posted a historic 23-20 overtime win over the Buccaneers last December at Raymond James Stadium, a victory that ended Detroit's NFL-record 26-game road losing streak. The Bucs have come out on top in seven of the past 10 matchups between the clubs, however, as well as in two of their last three games against Detroit held in Tampa,
Detroit and Tampa Bay were both residents of the NFC Central from 1977-2001, before the current four-division format was instituted.
In addition to the regular-season set, the teams have met once in the postseason, with Tampa Bay securing a 20-10 home win in a 1997 NFC First-Round Playoff.
Schwartz is 1-0 lifetime versus Tampa Bay, while Morris lost his only career encounter with the Lions, as well as his first-ever head-to-head battle with Schwartz, with last season's overtime setback.
WHEN THE LIONS HAVE THE BALL
The aforementioned Stafford makes his third straight start on Kickoff Weekend and is the only quarterback in franchise history to throw at least four touchdown passes in a game twice in his first two years, registering a career- high five scoring strikes in Week 11 of the 2009 campaign and a four-touchdown performance during Week 8 of last year. The Lions scored an NFL-best 114 points in the preseason, while Stafford needs just 198 yards to reach 3,000 for his career and one touchdown pass to reach 20 overall. He led the NFL with a 154.7 rating in preseason as well. Running back Jahvid Best led all 2010 rookies with 1,042 scrimmage yards and had 6 touchdowns, including two at Chicago on last year's Kickoff Weekend. Wide receiver Calvin Johnson has the most career receptions (270), yards (4,191) and touchdown catches (33) by a Lion in his first four seasons. He tied for second in the league last year with 12 receiving scores and is the first Lion with two seasons of 12-plus receiving touchdowns. Last season against Tampa Bay, Johnson had 10 catches for 152 yards. Also, wide receiver Nate Burleson had a touchdown catch in Detroit's most recent meeting with the Buccaneers.
Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber has two career games against Detroit with two interceptions, including a November 2008 meeting in which he had two picks and returned one for a 65-yard touchdown. Barber has started 183 consecutive games, the most by a cornerback in league history, and is the only player in NFL annals with 25-plus sacks (26) and at least 40 interceptions. Rookie defensive ends Adrian Clayborn (first round, 20th overall) and Da'Quan Bowers (second round, 51st overall) will make their NFL debuts for Tampa Bay on Sunday.
Detroit was 15th out of 32 teams in points scored last season and 17th in total yardage, while the Buccaneers were ninth in points allowed and 17th in overall defense.
WHEN THE BUCCANEERS HAVE THE BALL
Tampa Bay became the first team since 1970 to start 10-plus rookies and have a full winning season last year. Third-year quarterback Josh Freeman, selected 16 spots after Stafford in the 2009 draft, passed for 3,451 yards, 25 touchdowns and had just six interceptions last year to become just the second signal- caller in team history with 3,000-plus yards, 20-plus scoring passes and fewer than 10 picks in a season. He has thrown a touchdown pass in a club-record 13 consecutive games, and when Freeman has a quarterback rating of 80 or better in his career, the Bucs are 12-2. Second-year running back LeGarrette Blount led all NFL rookies with 1,007 rush yards in 2010 and became the third Tampa Bay rookie to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark. He went for 110 yards and a touchdown against Detroit last December. Wide receiver Mike WIlliams had 65 receptions for 964 yards as a rookie in 2010, both second-best marks by a first-year player in team history. He had six catches for 96 yards and a score against the Lions last year and aims for his fourth game in a row with a touchdown catch. Also, veteran tight end Winslow has at least one catch in 76 consecutive games.
Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh had 10 sacks last year, the second-most ever by a rookie at the position since sacks became an official stat in 1982, and became the first Lions rookie to be named to the Pro Bowl since Hall of Famer Barry Sanders in 1990. Safety Louis Delmas led the team in tackles with 84 in 2010, while end Cliff Avril aims for a third game in a row against Tampa Bay with a sack. He had a career-best 8 1/2 sacks in 2010.
The Bucs were 20th in the NFL in points scored and 19th in total yardage in 2010, while Detroit was 19th in points surrendered and 21st in yards allowed.
KEYS TO THE GAME
The longer Freeman can stay upright against an aggressive Lions' pass rush, the better it'll be for the Buccaneers, who can take some heat off with the legs of the tough-running Blount.
Tampa Bay lost out in the Nnamdi Asomugha sweepstakes in the offseason, which is good news for Johnson, who made a huge impact in last year's win over the Bucs.
Though they ended the season with two road wins, the Lions have still fared poorly in recent years away from home, winning just twice in 28 tries since 2007. Meanwhile, the Bucs were just 4-4 at Raymond James Stadium in 2010.
A scintillating preseason has made the Lions a sexy alternative to Chicago as a challenger to Green Bay in the NFC North, given the collection of high-end youngsters like Stafford, Johnson and Best. Assuming the quarterback is able to stay vertical for four quarters, the visitors have what seems a palpable edge in talent and should reward -- at least in Week 1 -- all of the breathless offseason talk.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Lions 20, Buccaneers 13
09/08 17:38:14 ET