The compelling blend of power, artistry and dramatic athletic combat that makes the NFL a must-see weekly spectacle steps out in Detroit on Sunday at Ford Field, where the Lions host the St. Louis Rams.
Storylines abound in every corner of the country on opening day of the NFL, and the Rams-Lions game has its own subplot.
The Rams, Super Bowl champions in 1999 but in tatters of late, are rebuilding from last season’s 2-14 debacle under new head coach Jeff Fisher and a reconstructed roster.
Rebuilding is no longer a part of the Lions’ vocabulary. They are legitimate playoff contenders – and perhaps Super Bowl contenders – coming off last season’s 10-6 record and NFC wild-card berth.
Nothing is ever certain - in one game or a full season - and there are doubters who question whether the Lions can stitch together two straight playoff appearances.
My prediction for the Lions’ record: 11-5 and second place in the NFC North behind a Green Bay Packers team that is stacked with talent. I don’t see the Bears passing the Lions by for second in the division.
Once in the playoffs, the Lions have the talent to make a run, especially if their stars play like stars and their secondary comes around.
For starters - this special opening week - what matters isn’t how the season plays out but how it starts.
And how it starts is like nothing else in American sports. Football season is like 16 Daytona 500s for every team - full throttle, grill to bumper, hold your ground every week – and opening day’s octane rating is off the charts.
Football gets in your face with greasepaint on its cheeks, a jutted chin with five-day stubble. It dares you to look away – and knows you can’t. Its grip is too tight, the allure too commanding.
No other sport builds to such a high expectancy level as football, with an offseason of free-agent signings, the draft, workouts, training camp, preseason games and cut-down dates taking the game to the starting line.
The Lions have an added dose of expectancy this year. It’s their first home opener since 2006 – a 9-6 loss to Seattle and only their fourth since 1998.
“It’s an exciting time,” Coach Jim Schwartz said. “It really is. We’re looking forward to being at home for our opener. Since I’ve been head coach, we haven’t had a home (season)-opener.
“We can’t wait to get back to the crowd that we left on Christmas Eve against San Diego.”
That was last season’s final home game, an emotion-drenched 38-10 win over the Chargers that clinched a playoff berth. After the game, Lions players jogged around the playing field, shaking hands with fans.
A welcoming handshake might be in order Sunday. Such is the anticipation level for the start of the season.
Sunday’s game will be the 12th opening day for center
“Can’t wait,” he said. “I think by Saturday you’re in that mode. I can’t wait for this stuff to come.”
He paused for a moment.
“It’s too early to talk about it,” he said. “You’ve got to be a part of it to really explain it, I guess. It’s unreal. It’s everything.”
“I like to keep it chill,” Avril said. “I’m a real mellow, chill guy.”
The chill is gone when he hears the National Anthem.
“Then I start getting a little hyper,” Avril said.
“It’s what you work for, opening day, all season,” he said. ”Everything kind of builds up to that. It’s a new start. Nothing you’ve done up to that point really matters.
“You don’t know for sure where you’re at as a team, how you stack up.”
Vanden Bosch wants the defense on the field for the first play in every game, but especially in the opener. He doesn’t want to stand on the sideline with his nerves jangling.
“It feels like you get amped up, warmed up for the game,” he said. “If the offense puts together a six-minute drive, you lose it a little bit.
“I get overly anxious. It’s hard for me to calm down that first drive. You’re not worried. You’re sometimes overly hyped up. The quicker you can settle in, usually the better you are.”