The St. Louis Rams and Detroit Lions each experienced different seasons in 2011. Head coach Jim Schwartz took his team to the playoffs for the first time since 1999. The Rams finished the season with two wins, firing their coach and general manager after it was all said and done. Despite the two divergent paths, Schwartz is not taking the Rams for granted ahead of this week's season opener at Ford Field in Detroit.
"You can look at this team a lot of different ways," Schwartz said. "You can look at their record last year. You can look at their stats from last year. I like to look at the fact that they beat New Orleans last year, a team that we lost to twice, and if that doesn't get your attention and see what their players can do, then you're certainly not being realistic."
Expectations for the Lions are high this season. They have a roster loaded with talent, including one of the league's few 5,000-yard passers in quarterback Matthew Stafford, and a fearsome defensive line headlined by Ndamukong Suh, the second player picked after Sam Bradford in the 2010 NFL Draft.
Those expectations are far from Schwartz' mind this week.
"We can't worry about our expectations for this year, what we need to worry about is our expectations for today, our expectations for the Rams this week," he said. "It sounds cliché, but our team does a good job of staying in that moment."
The Rams offense can be easily overlooked after its trouble scoring points last season. The Lions are not making that mistake.
"Well, Steven Jackson is still one of the best running backs in the NFL," Schwartz said. "It starts with him for sure. Sam Bradford, he had some injury concerns last year, but he's an exciting young quarterback. They get (WR Danny) Amendola back. They drafted some other wide receivers. They have a lot of offensive firepower."
The defense caught the coach's attention as well.
"I really like what [Robert] Quinn has done in the preseason," Schwartz said. "I think he's got three sacks in limited time in the preseason. [Chris] Long had a great year last year. They can rush the passer. [James] Laurinaitis has been a really good middle linebacker for them. (CB) Cortland Finnegan, who I know very well, very good corner and they drafted well at corner.
"They've put some pretty good pieces together and they're going to be a very good team this year."