With an empty slate of college and high school games, football fans in the state have been waiting on anything to whet their appetites.
The start of the NFL season fills some of that void, with the Lions opening the season against the Chicago Bears on Sunday.
These are the first full-speed games in the NFL, which ditched the preseason in the midst of the pandemic and isn’t playing in a bubble environment. With a reduced calendar of preseason workouts, all the practice and production will reveal which teams are ready for the big stage of the regular season.
No fans will be in attendance for at least the first two home games at Ford Field, which will lead to an interesting atmosphere in the stadium, as well as the television broadcast, which will have fans digitally added to improve the visual production.
The Lions are looking to get their first season-opening win since 2017 and to end their four-game losing streak to the Bears.
Here are five things to watch as the Bears visit the Lions on Sunday (1:00 p.m., Fox, 760):
A QB problem for the Lions
Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 draft, taken ahead of Patrick Mahomes (10th) and Deshaun Watson (12th). Trubisky hasn’t lived up to that top billing — except when he’s played the Lions. Trubisky has thrown for 11 touchdowns in games against Detroit, more than he has against any other team in the league.
A pack of Patriots
The additions of lineman Danny Shelton, linebacker Jamie Collins and safety Duron Harmon — all former Patriots — to each level of the defense will help, with their familiarity with Matt Patricia’s defensive principles. The defense was porous last season, partly because of the offense working without Matthew Stafford for the second half of the season. The loss of Darius Slay looms large in a retooled defense that has several new starters.
With the anticipation of rookie D’Andre Swift’s arrival and the return of a healthy Kerryon Johnson, the backfield got another boost with the signing of Adrian Peterson after the initial roster cuts. Peterson is familiar with offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell’s system, when the two were in Minnesota early in Peterson’s career. Oddly, Peterson admired Barry Sanders, whom he has a chance to surpass on the all-time rushing list this season. How the reps are split will be an early development to monitor.
Potential headaches on defense
The Bears added pass-rush specialist Robert Quinn in free agency and were looking to have a dual threat with Quinn and linebacker Khalil Mack. Quinn has been listed as doubtful because of an ankle injury and hasn’t practiced this week. The Bears still have other pieces that can give Stafford and the Lions’ offense headaches and keep the pressure on with their front seven.
A talented tight end or two
The Bears have a good pair of tight ends in veteran Jimmy Graham and rookie second-round pick Cole Kmet, who played at Notre Dame. The Bears have a good set of receivers with Allen Robinson II, Ted Ginn Jr. and Cordarrelle Patterson, but the tight ends could play a big role in the passing game as well. Graham is looking for a bounce-back season, after posting just 38 catches for 447 yards and 3 TDs last season with the Green Bay Packers.