|Calvin Johnson led the NFL in receiving yards in 2011 and is gunning for 2,000 this season. (AP Images)|
Lions vs. Rams -- Week 1
Where: Ford Field, Detroit (FieldTurf, indoors)
When: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET (FOX)
Spread: Lions by 7
2011 records: Lions (10-6) ; Rams (2-14)
Past results: Two most recent meetings -- Oct. 10, 2010: Lions 44, Rams 6 ; November 1, 2009: Rams 17, Lions 10. Series record: Lions trail in the series 38-42-1.
What matters: Detroit enters the game with continuity on its roster and coaching staff, but injuries to Chris Houston and Louis Delmas mean the Lions will likely start a completely different secondary than the defensive backfield that started their 2011 playoff loss to the Saints. LB Stephen Tulloch says he's not worried about communication problems on defense, but the back seven will need to prove they can gel as a unit without two marquee players. St. Louis visits Detroit a completely different team than the one that lost to the Lions 44-6 in 2010. New coach Jeff Fisher added more than 30 new players to the roster, and the Rams enter the game facing questions about whether they are completely on the same page. Lions' players said the Rams' roster turnover made preparing for Sunday's game difficult thanks to a lack of information about where all the newcomers fit in Fisher's scheme.
Who mattersSam Bradford says he's fully healthy after a 2011 season beset by injuries. There's no substitute for game action, and it's up to Detroit's front four to keep near-constant pressure on Bradford. If DEs Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril can collapse Bradford's pocket, he could be in for a long afternoon. Everyone knows that Calvin Johnson is capable of near-superhuman feats on the field, but he'll need some help from his friends to force St. Louis' defense to spread the field. QB Matthew Stafford will likely look to get WRs Nate Burleson and Titus Young involved in the offense early. If Young and Burleson are productive, it'll give Johnson the favorable matchups he needs to make his magic happen.
Key matchupsRob Sims identified the Rams' LB corps of Rocky McIntosh, James Laurinaitis and Jo-Lonn Dunbar as the source of most of St. Louis' blitz packages. It's important for Lions' TEs Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler to have a big day. If the Rams' LBs are forced to respect Pettigrew and Scheffler's involvement in the offense, it could lessen the amount of pressure they're able to put on Matthew Stafford.
Injuries of noteJohn Wendling and Chris Houston will likely handle starting safety duties. Houston's absence paves the way for a cornerback-by-committee rotation featuring Bill Bentley, Jacob Lacey and new arrivals Kevin Barnes and Drayton Florence
Inside stuff: The Lions' kick coverage teams were an Achilles heel last season, but they've quietly improved in the last two preseason games. DE Ronnell Lewis and WR Kassim Osgood have provided a technically sound anchor for the unit. If the coverage units continue their strong play, they should be able to force the Rams to start drives with poor field position all game.
Connections: William Hayes. Lions coach Jim Schwartz served under Rams coach Jeff Fisher in Tennessee as the defensive coordinator from 2001-08. Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan was the Rams' coach from 2006-2008.
Stat you should know: Despite the Lions' 2011 success, Sunday's game features two franchises that have set the standard for recent futility. Detroit's 18-62 record from 2006-2010 ranks as the fifth-worst performance over a five-year period since the NFL-AFL merger. That's bad, but the Rams' 15-65 record from 2007-2011 is worse. That total is the worst five-year record since 1970, according to STATS LLC.
Bulletin board quote: The matchup between Lions coach Jim Schwartz and his former boss Jeff Fisher has been set as a storyline for Sunday's game, but it isn't lost on the Lions' offensive players that coordinator Scott Linehan is facing his former team as well. For the second-consecutive season, Detroit is facing a team in its home opener that was previously coached by one of its coordinators. DC Gunther Cunningham got his revenge on the Chiefs last season, and WR Nate Burleson is intent on giving Linehan the same satisfaction Sunday. “As a player who has known Scott 10 years, I'm going to put everything on the line so that he can go home and rest with a victory against his former team,” Burleson said.
Looking ahead: With two difficult road games against San Francisco (Week 2) and Tennessee (Week 3) looming, Sunday's opener against the Rams may be as close to a must-win game as you can get in Week 1. The Lions' 5-0 start last season gave them the springboard they needed to reach the playoffs. An unproven running game and secondary make repeating that feat a difficult task. If Detroit doesn't win Sunday, it could easily head into the Week 5 bye at -- or below -- .500.
Prediction: Lions 24, Rams 20
Follow Lions reporter John Kreger on Twitter at @CBSSportsNFLDET and @JohnKreger.