Most weeks, we'll answer one or two Detroit Lions questions throughout from you, the reader. To ask a question for a Lions Mailbag, use the hashtag #LionsMailbag on Twitter, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or ask away (and follow along) on Facebook.
Now, on to the latest question.
Outside the division, can you name the top 3 teams, who will be the toughest opponents this upcoming season? #LionsMailbag
— Péter Mayer (@mayerpeter47) June 21, 2017
I think there are more than three difficult opponents for the Lions outside of the NFC North. Actually, most of the team's front half of the schedule is daunting. But since you asked for three, here would be the three that stand out the most to me.
I'd start in Week 2 at the New York Giants. New York was a playoff team last season, has one of the better quarterbacks in the league in Eli Manning and has an improved receiving corps. The Giants' defense also has the potential to be a major problem for whoever lines up at left tackle in place of Taylor Decker. Combine this with being on Monday Night Football, on the road in Jersey, and this is going to be a tough matchup.
That game also leads into another of the top-three toughest opponents. The Atlanta Falcons should have one of the most potent offenses in the NFL again. If Detroit can't pressure Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan -- and until the start of the season, there's little reason to believe the pass rush will be that improved -- it could be a rough game for the Lions' better-than-expected secondary. Combine that with a short week against a physical team in New York and that could be a really difficult turnaround.
The last of the three is coming off the bye against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Oct. 29. The Steelers are a perennial playoff team, and it'll be difficult for the Lions to stop the trio of Ben Roethlisberger, Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown. Pittsburgh's defense could be good enough to neutralize some of the Lions' offensive options, too. Of course, who knows what either team will look like by midseason as injuries inevitably happen, but at full strength this seems like a really rough matchup for the Lions.
The other games I considered were the season-opener against the Arizona Cardinals and Dec. 10 at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Cardinals have one of the more talented secondaries in the league and a pass rush that could force Matthew Stafford out of the pocket a lot. The Bucs might be a surprise on here, but they are an improving team with a plethora of offensive options and a quarterback who might have a breakout year in Jameis Winston. They are a dangerous opponent.
In April, I predicted the Lions to go 1-2 against those three teams (and 2-3 against that group of five). If the Lions are able to go over .500 against that group of five, it could bode well for Detroit's season.