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Week 1: Rams-Lions matchup

The SportsXchange

St. Louis at Detroit

Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at Ford Field, Detroit - TV: FOX; DirecTV: 705

*TV announcers: Chris Myers, Tim Ryan, Jaime Maggio

*Keys to the game: The Lions turned back the clock in returning Kevin Smith to the No. 1 running back spot. They don't need the trimmed-down Smith to be a world-beater, but to keep the Rams' defensive line at bay he'll have to find room to run. The Lions can light up the scoreboard with their passing game and Matthew Stafford has supreme confidence in Calvin Johnson to beat double teams consistently. That has typically uncovered TE Brandon Pettigrew and secondary receivers Titus Young and Nate Burleson to work against softer coverage. The Rams have many moving parts on the offensive line. The Lions can get to the quarterback with their four-man rush, but dropping linebackers won't fully protect their beleaguered secondary. If QB Sam Bradford is able to step into throws, the Rams can pick up first downs with their short, high-percentage passing game that will focus on RBs Steven Jackson and rookie Isaiah Pead. While the Rams can't match Detroit's flammable offense, Bradford has possession receiver Danny Amendola back after last year's elbow injury and has also shown a strong connection with slick route-runner Steve Smith.

*Matchup to watch - Rams RT Barry Richardson vs. Lions DE Cliff Avril: Just 26 and playing for a new contract, Avril's explosiveness is on full display on the Lions' fast playing surface. Richardson struggles against speed and can't win this battle alone. Avril had five sacks, three forced fumbles and an interception at Ford Field last season.

*Player spotlight - Rams CB Cortland Finnegan: His $50 million free agent contract won't help him check Johnson, but Finnegan's feistiness is essential to throwing off Stafford's timing and making Johnson work for a release getting off the line.

*Fast facts: Jackson has seven straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons. ... Johnson has 28 touchdown catches the past two seasons.

WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

If the Lions cobble together an effective running game, their three-wide receiver sets that now allow Calvin Johnson to move all around the formation are too much for the Rams to counter.

*Our pick: Lions 33-23
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