DETROIT - The Lions have a big game on Sunday, to say the least.
A victory over the 49ers in San Francisco on national TV on Sunday Night Football would do more than just give the Lions a 2-0 record. It would send a message to NFL America that the Lions honestly have something going on -- that they aren't just winning games now, but are real contenders in the fight to get to a Super Bowl.
Hence, it's a statement game. Perhaps, the biggest the Lions have had in more than a decade.
The Lions have gotten a lot of love since they starting winning games last season and are no longer the laughingstocks of the league. But still, few NFL experts have been ready to pick the Lions when they play elite teams. They believe the Lions are good, but not all the way there yet.
Plus, the 49ers are the `it' team this season. They opened the season by beating the Packers in Green Bay in impressive fashion. Last season, they went 13-3 and lost in the NFC championship game. Many are picking the 49ers to get to the Super Bowl this season.
"We believe we can play with them," Lions' DE Cliff Avril said. "Nobody is giving us a chance, but us, within this locker room, feel like we can play with them and pull out a 'W.' That's the goal and that's what we're going to try to accomplish."
Avril understands why the 49ers are the favorites.
"They got all the hype behind them, which is fine," he said. "We're used to being the underdogs."
Questioning how good the Lions are is legit. Despite winning 10 games last season, the Lions didn't beat a single team that finished with a winning record. Plus, against NFC playoff teams in 2011, the Lions had an 0-5 record.
Not surprisingly, coach Jim Schwartz downplayed the importance of the game. We get it. He doesn't want to put too much stock in one game in case they lose.
"They all count,'' Schwartz said. "It's counts a little bit more because it's an NFC game on the road. Those are important things against a team that won the West and was in the championship game."
When asked if the league would look at the Lions differently if they won, Schwartz pooh-poohed the notion that it mattered at all.
"We don't care how people look at us," Schwartz said. "That's fine for fans, and for TV and websites and everything else. Power rankings and all that other crap doesn't mean anything to us. It's about getting a win."
The Lions (1-0) will need some luck because the 49ers (1-0) have owned them recently, winning 13 of the last 14 meetings -- including eight straight. Last season, the 49ers beat the Lions 25-19 at Ford Field with a last-minute TD to snap the Lions five-game winning streak to open the season.
"A win is what's important," Schwartz said. "However you can do that, that's the only thing that matters in this league. Everything else is fun for people to talk about. It's great. It's a big game and people are talking and we're certainly excited to play."
The Lions won't be able to play as poorly as they did against the St. Louis Rams and expect to win. The 49ers defense is the best in the league. "It's going to be a very tough game," Schwartz said. "We're going to have to play our very best."
Lions star receiver Calvin Johnson said the game could be looked at a measuring stick. "We definitely want to see where we stack up to them," he said. "We feel we have a good shot going in there, a great shot. It (a win) could propel us throughout the early part of the season."
The last thing the Lions want to do is a lay an egg, like they did against the Saints last year on national TV. Here, though, much can be gained with a winning performance.
"If we get the win, I definitely think people will kind of give us more respect," Avril said. "But respect is earned. That's just in anything. So we definitely have to go earn it and try to get that 'W.'"
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