Week 1 of the NFL season is finally here with the Detroit Lions starting the post-Ndamukong Suh era with a trip out west to visit the San Diego Chargers where they have not won in four meetings. Meanwhile, the Chargers are looking for a rare quick start in their attempt to make the playoffs for just the second time in the last six seasons.
Detroit at San Diego
Kickoff: 4:05 p.m. ET (Sunday)
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Chargers -3
Three Things to Watch
1. Second-year step
All offseason, Lions players have emphasized how much more comfortable they are being in the second year of offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi’s system. Progress was made with the number of turnovers seeing a drastic decrease, and a breakout season from Golden Tate, but far too often the offense became stagnant. Much of that was due to a porous offensive line that surrendered 45 sacks a season ago that resulted in the offseason moves to bring in a first-round guard in Laken Tomlinson and the disposal of long-time veterans Dominic Raiola and Rob Sims. With a rebooted line, key playmakers back at every skill position and another year of experience in the system, expectations are sky-high that this offense can rebound from a down season.
2. Rookie Running Backs
The last time Melvin Gordon and Ameer Abdullah were on the same field together, we saw history. Gordon set the FBS single-game rushing record held by former San Diego Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson with 408 yards and four touchdowns against Nebraska. Abdullah played second fiddle in the matchup of star backs, rushing for just 69 yards. Both were high selections in the NFL Draft with the idea that each would revitalize their respective team’s rushing attacks — Detroit finishing 28th and San Diego 30th in 2014. Gordon and Abdullah are likely to split carries in a rotation to start, but expect to see glimpses right off the bat of why both were so highly coveted coming out of college.
3. Key Players Out on Both Sides
Future Hall of Famer Antonio Gates will miss the first four games of the season after being suspended due to using a banned substance. Backup tight end Ladarius Green, who is listed as questionable for Sunday, is expected to start in Gates’ absence. Green practiced on Friday for the first time this week — a positive indication that he will be available.
For Detroit, three starters are expected to miss Sunday’s matchup: starting linebacker DeAndre Levy, reserve defensive tackle Caraun Reid and starting guard Larry Warford. Levy has not been officially listed as out, but Detroit’s leading tackler from a year ago has not practiced in nearly two weeks due to a lingering hip injury. The seventh-year linebacker is the Lions' best defender and the team’s top linebacker in coverage. The middle of the field will be a place the Chargers will look to exploit if Levy is out. That could mean a very big day for Danny Woodhead out of the backfield.
This one has all the makings of a shootout with two high-powered offenses playing in the pristine San Diego weather. After not playing in the preseason, All-Pro wide receiver Calvin Johnson will finally take the field for the Lions and has a decided height advantage over both San Diego starting cornerbacks who both measure up at just 5-9. For the Chargers, quarterback Philip Rivers could have a field day throwing between the hashes with Detroit’s best coverage linebacker likely to out of the lineup. If the game comes down to which team makes enough stops, take Detroit and the league's second-ranked defense from a season ago.
Prediction: Lions 30, Chargers 27
— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois University and current writer for CollegeFootballGeek.com. Make sure to follow him on Twitter @MikeBainbridge2.