It was not that long ago when the Rams and Lions were bottom dwellers in the NFL. The Lions couldn’t even win a game in 2008, and the Rams constantly hovered around the bottom for about a decade now. Fast forward to 2012, and the Rams are still trying to get back to the “The Greatest Show on Turf’ days when Kurt Warner was under center. The Lions on the other hand look more like that team than the Rams do in the current era. Both teams have young, promising quarterbacks, but it has been Matthew Stafford of the Lions that has certainly outshined Sam Bradford so far in their careers. It was a coming out party of sorts for Stafford last season, while Bradford had to watch from the sidelines in the majority of his sophomore campaign. Ultimately, Bradford only passed for 2,164 yards with 6 TDs and 6 INTs in ten games. Bradford showed plenty of potential in his rookie season, however, passing for 3,512 yards with 18 TDs and 15 INTs. Definitely not jaw dropping, but it was enough to nab the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award in 2010. Stafford has had his fair share of injury issues during his career, most notably his shoulder, but avoided the injury bug last season which resulted in huge numbers for Stafford and the Lions offense. Stafford eclipsed the 5,000 yard mark in only his third season in the NFL, behind only Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers in 2011. On top of the 5,000 yards, Stafford threw 41 TDs with only 16 INTs. The Lions haven’t had a quarterback with this much talent since Bobby Layne in the 1950s. Layne, who coincidently went to the same high school Stafford, stated the Lions would not win for another 50 years in 1958. Well, it looks like the curse may finally be over in Detroit.
While Stafford is the one tossing the rock up, it’s Calvin Johnson that makes this offense click the way it does. The Lions offense, through the air anyway, is one of the toughest to stop simply because of the way Calvin Johnson takes over a game. Forget about single coverage, or even double, because Johnson needs nearly three defenders blanketing him to disrupt his rhythm at all. Even then, he has still managed to come down with the ball while being triple teamed. Of course, with a defense playing Johnson in this manner, it gives Stafford other options to pass to. Speedy second year receiver Titus Young will be playing on the opposite side of Johnson. Young hauled in 48 receptions with 607 yards and 6 TDs in his rookie season. Expect him to improve on these numbers in 2012. The Lions also went out and drafted the NCAA career receptions record holder, Ryan Broyles. Broyles, out of Oklahoma, will primarily be playing out of the slot, giving the Lions a true slot receiver in 2012. You may mistake Broyles and Young for one another on due to their smaller statures, but make no mistake, Broyles will play the middle of the field, while Young will try and blow the top off defenses. The Lions also possess a couple of talented tight ends in Tony Scheffler and Brandon Pettigrew. This offense promises to mimic what it did in 2011.
The Lions defense, however, hopes to do anything but in 2012. The playoff game against the New Orleans Saints was the Lions defense in a nut shell: when the Lions couldn’t muster any pressure up front, quarterbacks torched the hapless defensive backs. It shouldn’t get any better this season, at least early on, as the Lions will be relying on a rookie cornerback out of Louisiana-Lafayette, Will Bentley, to step in immediately. The best corner on the field for the Lions may be newly acquired Drayton Florence from the Denver Broncos. After being cut by the Broncos following the preseason, the Lions quickly picked up the veteran who spent the last three seasons with the Buffalo Bills.
The Rams offense is hit-and-miss, and it starts with Steven Jackson. If Jackson gets off to quick starts, it opens up things for Bradford down the field. As mentioned previously, Bradford was limited last season due to a shoulder injury that has lingered with him since his senior year at Oklahoma. It will be interesting to see how he responds in 2012, but he showcased his strong arm in the preseason without any major hitches. He finished the exhibition games with 5 TDs and 0 INTs. While all eyes will be on Bradford, I believe the Rams offensive success in 2012 will hinge on the play of their receiving core. There aren’t any names that will jump out on the roster, with Brandon Gibson being Bradford’s number one target. Although, the name Steve Smith may sound familiar to most, it is the former Giant Steve Smith, not Steve Smith of the Panthers. Smith has only participated in eight games since a 1,220 yard campaign with the New York Giants. He only started one game with the Eagles last year, and managed just 124 yards a TD. I think he still has some talent left in the tank, so it will be interesting to see how he performs with Bradford.
The Lions won’t be the only team in this contest with a rookie cornerback starting. Janoris Jenkins, who previously played at the University of Florida, transferred to North Texas after being dismissed by UF for violating team rules. If it wasn’t for the trouble off the field, Jenkins may have very well been a first round selection in the draft. The Rams are hoping they picked up a steal with Jenkins in the second round. Along with Jenkins, look for another new face at the corner position, with ex-Titan Cortland Finnegan making the move to St. Louis. The Rams will still have their main cogs: standout defensive end Chris Long who finished with a gaudy 13.5 sacks last season; middle linebacker James Laurinaitis is coming off a 107 tackle season; and finally wily veteran Quintin Mikell will be back for his second season in St. Louis after eight with the Eagles.
Rams vs. Lions Spread, Line and Betting Odds:
St. Louis Rams +9 (+115)
@Detroit Lions -9 (-105)
Over 46 (-110)
Under 46 (-110)
Betting odds taken from Bovada.lv
Rams vs. Lions Pick:
With the non-existence of a running game for the Lions, expect them to stick to what they’re good at, and that’s Matthew Stafford chucking the ball up to his array of talented targets. For the most part this is a new look Rams defense. Rams’ rookie Janoris Jenkins should get tested early and often against a juggernaut aerial attack. As impossible as it may sound, it wouldn’t surprising to me for Calvin Johnson to surpass his numbers from a year ago (1681 yards, 16 TDs). The 5’10” Cortland Finnegan will most likely be locked onto the 6’5” frame of Calvin Johnson. I don’t expect Finnegan to have much success; neither will a double team do much damage either.
I feel like this is a good matchup for Sam Bradford to come back to after an injury riddled 2011 campaign. The Lions secondary looks like they are on life support. It appears they will be without starting safety Louis Delmas, and starting cornerback Chris Houston as they both sat out of practice on Thursday. While rookie corner Will Bentley showed flashes of potential in the preseason, I expect him to make some rookie mistakes in his first game as a pro. While the Lions should cover, I like the over even more. Take the over, in which should be a pretty entertaining week 1 matchup.
PICK = OVER 46