Predicting Detroit Lions’ 2021 record: Wins hard to find on difficult schedule

Detroit Free Press

Dan Campbell is a straight shooter, so I will be, too: As optimistic as I am about where the Detroit Lions are headed, I do not think they will win many games this fall.

The Lions have a difficult early-season schedule and a few obvious holes on both sides of the ball, along with the lack of depth that comes with being in the beginning stages of a rebuild will be tough to overcome.

Perhaps there is room for a modest upside surprise. Players seem to genuinely respect Campbell and his staff, and a good locker room goes a long way toward being successful on the field. Plus, the strength of this Lions team is their offensive and defensive lines, which remain the best places to be strong (after quarterback) in football.

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But my expectations are low this year, and the Lions’ margin for error is razor-thin.

Here are my game-by-game predictions for the 2021 season:

Sept. 12: Lions vs. San Francisco 49ers

The schedule makers did not do Penei Sewell any favors in his NFL debut, pitting him against Nick Bosa, Dee Ford and a ferocious 49ers defensive line. Pick: 49ers 28, Lions 20.

Sept. 20: Lions at Green Bay Packers (Monday night)

Aaron Rodgers has thrown 57 career touchdown passes to Davante Adams. The six cornerbacks on the Lions roster have played in 36 career games. Pick: Packers 34, Lions 21.

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Sept. 26: Lions vs. Baltimore Ravens

Everyone knows how dangerous Lamar Jackson is with his legs, but it usually takes teams that don’t see him often  longer to figure it out. Jackson has 10 games with at least 90 yards rushing the past two seasons. Six of those have come against NFC teams. Pick: Ravens 27, Lions 17.

Oct. 3: Lions at Chicago Bears

Interesting dynamic brewing in Chicago this year, where Matt Nagy is coaching for his job and at some point will have to let rookie quarterback Justin Fields play. Pick: Lions 21, Bears 17.

Oct. 10: Lions at Minnesota Vikings

There are going to be a lot of sideways glances in the Vikings locker room this year if the unvaccinated Kirk Cousins catches COVID-19 and costs his team a game. Pick: Vikings 23, Lions 20.

Oct. 17: Lions vs. Cincinnati Bengals

The Lions pass rush could have a field day against the Bengals, but I’m all aboard the Joe Burrow train. Pick: Bengals 27, Lions 24.

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Oct. 24: Lions at Los Angeles Rams

Jared Goff goes back to L.A. Matthew Stafford meets his old team. The storylines will be there, but this one won’t be very compelling from a record standpoint. Pick: Rams 35, Lions 21.

Oct. 31: Lions vs. Philadelphia Eagles

Darius Slay makes his return to Ford Field. It’s too bad Matt Patricia won’t be there to greet him. Pick: Lions 31, Eagles 27.

Nov. 14: Lions at Pittsburgh Steelers

I’m tempted to take the Lions coming off a bye week here, with the Steelers coming off a Monday night game. But I don’t trust the offense enough to put up points outside in November weather against a good defense. Pick: Steelers 23, Lions 17.

Nov. 21: Lions at Cleveland Browns

Had one scout who saw the Browns this summer tell me they are as talented as any team in the NFL. Pick: Browns 31, Lions 17.

Nov. 25: Lions vs. Bears

For the record, I had no problem with the Lions passing on Fields. But that pick could haunt them for years to come. Pick: Bears 27, Lions 21.

Dec. 5: Lions vs. Vikings

It’s far from ideal, but if the Lions can split with two of their division foes, that bodes well for what they’re trying to build. Pick: Lions 20, Vikings 17.

Dec. 12: Lions at Denver Broncos

The Lions might be able to sneak a road win here with the Broncos coming off tough division games against the Los Angeles Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs. Pick: Lions 24, Broncos 20.

Dec. 19: Lions vs. Arizona Cardinals

One thing to watch for: The Lions stringing a couple late-season wins together, when they’re still playing for their coach and other teams are looking ahead to 2022. Pick: Lions 27, Cardinals 23.

Dec. 26: Lions at Atlanta Falcons

No Todd Gurley this time around to run in a late touchdown, and no Stafford to direct a miracle finish. Pick: Falcons 24, Lions 17.

Jan. 2, 2022: Lions at Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks could very well be in a position where they’ll need a couple late-season wins to make the playoffs. Pick: Seahawks 31, Lions 21.

Jan. 9, 2022: Lions vs. Packers

If the Packers are resting their starters, Campbell can close out his first season as Lions coach with a win. If they’re not, this will be one more reminder of how far the Lions have to go. Pick: Packers 34, Lions 20.

Final Lions record: 5-12.

Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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