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John Niyo: Can Lions' rebrand stand glare of prime-time's bright lights?

John Niyo, The Detroit News on

Published in Football

GREEN BAY, Wis. — First impressions matter. But so do seconds and thirds, really, especially if you're planning on sticking around.

The Lions, of all teams, should understand that by now. And for a franchise that is once again trying to rebrand itself as something other than what it has been for far too long, this trip to Lambeau Field for a "Monday Night Football" clash with the Green Bay Packers is an opportunity to make a statement, I suppose.

Last week's season-opening loss to San Francisco was one thing. But Monday night's game against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers is something else altogether. It's a divisional matchup on the road, but it's also a prime-time showcase for everything Dan Campbell is selling as the Lions' new head coach.

That means nothing when it comes to Monday night's game plan — a little rain in the forecast probably won't hurt the run-oriented Lions, by the way — and it's far too early for any sort of referendum on the program Campbell and first-year general manager Brad Holmes are trying to build in Detroit. But fair or not, it will be a frame of reference for how they'll be received and perceived going forward.

For now, Campbell's a bit of a caricature outside of Detroit, an overcaffeinated tough guy talking about biting kneecaps and such. Yet while that introductory message was intended solely for the Lions' long-suffering fanbase, what happens Monday night is what everyone else will remember for quite some time.

The Lions, as you may have noticed, don't get many of these games. The NFL schedule-makers gave the Packers five prime-time games this season, while the Lions received just one. In fact, Detroit is one of only four teams — Carolina, Cincinnati and Jacksonville are the others — to have just one prime-time kickoff in each of the last three seasons.

 

That doesn't include their traditional Thanksgiving Day game in Detroit. But aside from some late-window West Coast kickoffs, this will be it when it comes to marquee TV games for the Lions this season.

Maybe that's a good thing for a team that's in the early stages of a rebuild, and for a franchise that hasn't fared very well under the bright lights.

The Lions went a decade between Monday Night Football appearances before making a triumphant return in 2011 with a raucous win over the Bears at Ford Field. But since then, they've played 11 MNF games and won just four, all of them under Jim Caldwell. They're 6-18 in all prime-time games over the last decade, and 11-23 if you include Thanksgiving games.

In science class, that's how a hypothesis becomes a theory. In the NFL, and specifically in Detroit, it's just one more reason the coaching carousel keeps spinning.

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