DETROIT – It's game week: the Detroit Lions open this season Sunday on the road against the Arizona Cardinals.
Last year, Arizona was the worst team in the NFL - while the Lions finished 6-10, missing the playoffs in a disappointing season. These teams met last year in Week 14, with the Lions winning 17-3.
This time around, a lot of things have changed for the Cardinals. Most notably, they have a new quarterback and coaching staff. Let's look at some other additions and subtractions to Arizona's roster and talk about their star players. Then, let's finish by looking at some headlines heading into the game.
Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury: Kingsbury comes into the league after six years as Texas Tech's head coach. With him he brings a spread offense unlike anything other NFL teams will run. He has a good relationship with his new quarterback Kyler Murray, as the pair met years ago through the college recruitment process.
Defensive Coordinator Vance Joseph: Joseph was fired as the Denver Broncos' head coach and promptly picked up a job as DC in Arizona. With him he brings head coaching experience and a new defense: the Cards now run a 3-4.
Kyler Murray, QB (#1): Murray was the number one pick in this year's draft. He's a Heisman Trophy winner. He tore it up in college making every play seem easy. He was also drafted in the first round of the Major League Baseball Draft. He's short. People think Murray will either change the NFL forever or be a giant bust. It all starts Week 1 against the Lions.
Receivers: After drafting Murray, the Cardinals got to work putting playmakers around him. Rookie KeeSean Johnson (#19) is getting some buzz and so was rookie Hakeem Butler before he got hurt. Arizona also recently brought in veteran free agent Michael Crabtree (#15).
Terrell Suggs, DE (#56): That Terrell Suggs? Yep, Suggs signed for his hometown Cardinals (he played at Arizona State in college) as a free agent, leaving the Baltimore Ravens after 16 years.
Byron Murphy, CB (#33): Murphy was one of the Cardinals' second round picks in this year's draft. A cornerback, he was expected to have a significant role even before preseason injuries forced Arizona's hand.
Jordan Hicks, LB (#58): Hicks was signed as a free agent from the Philadelphia Eagles. He's expected to start at linebacker.
Josh Bynes, LB: Bynes - who is a former Lion - started 11 games at middle linebacker last year for the Cardinals.
Josh Rosen, QB: The Cardinals drafted Rosen tenth overall in the 2018 Draft. After just one year they got rid of him, trading him to the Miami Dolphins for a draft pick.
Antoine Bethea, FS: The Cardinals let Bethea go as a free agent after he started all 16 games and set a career high in sacks. He also racked up 121 tackles.
Larry Fitzgerald, WR (#11): He's one of the best receivers of his generation and is back for another year after contemplating retirement following last season.
David Johnson, RB (#31): One of the top running backs in the league, he ranked third in carries last year. He's expected to have a big year.
Christian Kirk, WR (#13): A speedy second-year receiver, Kirk looks to build on his big play ability and be an impact player in the Cardinals' new offense.
Patrick Peterson, CB (#22): One of the league's best corners, you won't see Peterson against the Lions. He's suspended for violating the league's performance enhancing drugs policy.
Chandler Jones, DE (#55): Jones is a former New England Patriot. Surprisingly, Jones leads the NFL in sacks since 2016.
Haason Reddick, LB (#43): Reddick is one of Arizona's key defenders. He suffered an injury in the preseason – and if healthy – Week 1 will be the first action he'll see in the Cardinals' new defense.
Week 1 headlines
Hitting reset: New rookie head coach, new offense, new defense, new rookie QB: that's a lot of moving parts for a team that struggled mightily last year. Arizona knows success won't come overnight, but they don't want a repeat of last year. Bringing in Kingsbury's offense and drafting Murray is very much an experiment and the whole league is watching to see how it works out.
The Lions also have a new offense they'll be debuting in Week 1. They're moving to a possession-based, run-first offense and fans are anxious to see how it works. Matthew Stafford is also under the microscope after a down year last season. There are also a few new faces Lions fans are waiting to see including Danny Amendola, TJ Hockenson, Jesse James and CJ Anderson.
Sidelined: Arizona will be missing some key players against the Lions. CB Patrick Peterson is out, another defensive back expected to start is out in Robert Alford and rookie WR Hakeem Butler is also hurt.
The Lions are also dealing with a couple of injuries to star players including Frank Ragnow – who should be playing Week 1 – and Jarrad Davis who will not play with an ankle injury.
Year 2 of Patricia's defense: After picking up Snacks Harrison in the middle of last season the Lions' defense was drastically better against the run and improved overall. Now, Mike Daniels and Trey Flowers have been added to the defensive line, Justin Coleman has been added to the secondary and rookie Jahlani Tavai adds more depth to the linebacking core.
With concerns over how fast the new offense will get off the ground, the defense is going to be a huge factor in how successful the Lions will be.
Setting the scene: People around the NFL love to talk about how hard it is to fly across the country and play on the road. Also, Arizona plays on a grass field and it's likely to be very hot during the game. So, the Lions will be playing on a different surface and in a much different climate than they're used to at Ford Field.
One good thing about playing in Arizona: historically, lots of Lions fans make their way to games against warm weather teams. Here's hoping seeing some Honolulu Blue in the stands gives the Lions a boost.
Heading into Week 1, Lions fans should be cautiously optimistic about starting the year 1-0. The Cardinals' offense does pose a threat with Kyler Murray, but they are missing some key players on defense and are coming off a season where they were the worst team in the NFL.
For the Lions the game plan should be simple: be consistent on offense with drives that end in touchdowns and contain Kyler Murray. Containing Murray won't be easy, but the Lions are expected to have a very good defensive line that could put a lot of pressure on the Cardinals' offense.