It's great to be writing about a Week 1 matchup in the NFL with all the uncertainty surrounding the offseason and whether or not the Lions and the league would ever get to this point.
But the season opener is finally here as the Lions host division rival Chicago today at Ford Field at 1 p.m. (FOX).
Here are five things to watch out for in a crucial early NFC North matchup:
THE GREAT UNKNOWN
What will the atmosphere in Ford Field be like with no fans? How will that affect the play on the field? What effect will pumped in crowd noise have, if it does? That's really going to be an interesting one for me to watch develop, especially when it comes to communication on the field between the players.
There's also a greater unknown than in the past in terms of looking at the opponent and trying to prepare for what to expect Week 1. Teams are pretty bland in the preseason, but there's still an opportunity to study personnel groupings and to evaluate players on an individual basis in terms of their personal development year over year. With no preseason this year, teams weren't afforded that ability.
Every team is in the same boat in that regard, but more than any other year, it will be very important to make in-game adjustments. The teams that do it better this week, and the subsequent weeks in September, will find themselves in the win column more often than not.
Kerryon Johnson is healthy heading into his third season. He had a good training camp. The team added veteran Adrian Peterson to the backfield earlier this week, and he's expected to contribute right away. Rookie second-round pick D’Andre Swift missed a chunk of camp due to a hip injury, but he returned to practice in full this week and is ready to go.
But how the Lions divvy up carries between Johnson, Peterson and Swift will be interesting to watch. My expectation is for it to be pretty evenly split between Johnson and Peterson, with maybe Johnson having a slight edge when it's all said and done.
PROTECTING NO. 9
The Lions lost all eight games they played without starting quarterback Matthew Stafford last season. It's no big secret how vital he is to the team.
Two goals for the Lions' offense Sunday should be to have balance and mix in the run, and then obviously keep Stafford upright and protected in the pass game.
That's no easy task against the likes of Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks and the newly acquired Robert Quinn for Chicago, though Quinn is listed as doubtful to play. Mack had his fifth straight season with at least eight sacks last year (8.5) and Hicks is one of the more powerful and disruptive interior defenders in the game.
Lions starting right tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai will not play after injuring his foot this week. His absence will likely put third-year swing tackle Tyrell Crosby in line to start. The Lions are also starting a rookie at right guard in Jonah Jackson.
How well will those guys upfront hold up against a really stout Bears front seven will be a big storyline in this contest.
PASS CATCHERS STEP UP
The Detroit Lions kept six receivers on the 53-man roster, and that's turned out to be a good idea with Pro Bowl wide receiver Kenny Golladay doubtful to play Sunday because of a hamstring injury suffered Wednesday in practice.
Marvin Jones Jr., Danny Amendola, rookie Quintez Cephus, Marvin Hall and corner-turned-receiver Jamal Agnew will all have to step up and fill the void. Cephus and Hall can both play outside, if needed.
The Lions could also look to get their tight ends more involved, especially second-year tight end T.J. Hockenson, particularly in the red zone.
View photos from Detroit Lions practice Sept. 11, 2020.
After last year's issues on defense, Lions GM Bob Quinn completely revamped that side of the ball with the additions of Jamie Collins Sr., Danny Shelton, Nick Williams, Desmond Trufant, Duron Harmon, Reggie Ragland and the drafting of third overall pick Jeff Okudah. We could see six new starters on defense for Detroit today.
A lot of those players have experience in this defense playing under Matt Patricia before, or in a similar scheme in New England. They know what it takes for the defense to be successful and how everyone just doing their job is the easiest way to accomplish that.
But with no offseason and a shortened training camp, did that side of the ball get enough reps together to get to a point where they can hit the ground running Week 1? Will it still take some time and adjustments? The players and coaches feel really good about where the defense is. We'll see today if that translates to gameday.