Five things to watch: 49ers at Lions

Detroit News

Here we go again.

A likely years-long rebuild for the Detroit Lions fan base to endure is quite the ask after these last several decades.

But it’s the right move. As fans, well, you have no choice but to be patient. Forever and always.

It’s a sad reality that this team is the only NFL option in this town, but it’s one most of us came to terms with a long time ago.

But it’s NFL football, and it feels good to have it back. So enjoy your Sunday!

Here are five things to watch as the Lions play host to the 49ers (1 p.m., FOX, 97.1-FM The Ticket):

1. Is Dan the man? Though we’re pretty sure he won’t, we want Dan Campbell to succeed. But unlike the previous coach, at least he’s an easy guy to root for. Campbell also has plenty of time. There are no expectations to win this year. Game day mistakes aren’t just expected, they’re in some ways welcomed. Here’s hoping (and guessing) that he’s an aggressive coach, and that shows up right away. Don’t go into halftime with all your timeouts in your pocket. Send blitzes. Go for it, man.

2. Has Goff grown? On the other hand, Campbell’s new quarterback needs to show some maturity and growth this year. Now in Year 6 after being draft first overall, Jared Goff’s clock already is ticking in Detroit. He’s likely just a stopgap, but Goff can revamp his career in part by taking care of the ball. There’s an alarming trend of increased turnovers as he gets older when those should be going down. Job No. 1 for Goff is throwing the ball to the right team.

3. Welcome to the NFL: Tackle Penei Sewell will make his first start on Sunday, though there’s a bit of an open question about where. With Taylor Decker out, the expectation is the No. 7 pick will play on the left side and match up with San Francisco’s Nick Bosa. Bosa missed most of last year, but is one of the game’s best. After spending most of training camp on the right side, we’ll see how comfortable Sewell is back in his old spot after not seeing any real game action since the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1, 2020. That was a long time ago.

4. T.J.’s day? The Lions just don’t have a lot of talent. But T.J. Hockenson can truly play. The Lions third-year tight end is one of three players on this roster, along with the center and punter, who are clearly in the top half of NFL starters at his position (Think about that.). Hockenson will be targeted by his quarterback, but also by opposing defenses. Expect some big games from Hock, perhaps even in the opener, where he’s had success in his first two years. Out-producing his close friend George Kittle is likely one of the small victories Lions fans can reasonably root for in this one.

More: George Kittle, T.J. Hockenson part of ‘rare’ breed of NFL tight end

5. Watch that key number. Hey, you can bet on this game! From home! While sports betting was available at the Detroit casinos and others across the state last season, online sports betting means hundreds of Michiganders will be placing their first legal bets on the Lions this week. Based on some research I did this week at PlayMichigan, and from your own eyes, it’s probably a good thing that option wasn’t available before. This year should be interesting for the Lions from a betting perspective. They should be heavy underdogs most weeks (the spread ticked to +9.5 on Saturday afternoon), and getting more than a touchdown of points is alluring. Many seven-point games in the NFL (the second-most common margin of victory behind three points) are actually lopsided in reality. Watch for Campbell to sneak a hard-playing team to some backdoor covers this year.

Matt Schoch is a writer for PlayMichigan.com.

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