Lions Look to Overcome Brutal Schedule to Reach the Playoffs

The Lions are 7-2 and riding a four game win streak entering week eleven, and spirits are understandably high in the Motor City. It is worth noting that the Lions have not had a four game win streak since 2011 (the last time they made the playoffs), and haven’t started 7-2 in over twenty years. A little over half way through the season, the Lions have proven themselves as a force to be reckoned with.
It has been an electrifying start for a team that seems more reminiscent of the old black’n’blue division of the 1960’s than of the high-flying quarterback driven division they belong to now. For the first time in what seems like forever, the Lions are getting it done on the defensive side of the football. Entering week eleven, Detroit boasts the top ranked scoring defense and total defense, the second ranked rushing defense, and the third ranked passing defense. The defense has carried this team with a smothering pass rush and a knack for well-timed turnovers.
In the Lions’ last three wins against the Saints, Falcons, and Dolphins, the defense kept the game close long enough for Mathew Stafford to get in a rhythm without Starters Calvin Johnson, Reggie Bush, Eric Ebron, and Joseph Fauria. It was in these games that offseason acquisition Golden Tate surfaced as a dominant force, accumulating 414 receiving yards and two touchdowns over the three game stretch.
With Johnson now back from injury, and the rest of the injured following soon, Detroit’s offense may finally be able to join their defense at the top of the league. After all, prior to his injury, Johnson was considered the best wide receiver in football, and that was before Tate emerged as a force capable of pulling coverage. Now, with perhaps the best wide receiver duo in the league, the Lions offense may have what it takes to steer Detroit back to the playoffs.
Standing in the way, however, is a brutal slate of games to end the season. Detroit sees division rivals four times, and the top teams in both conferences. This is not a happy sight for a Lions fan base that is all too used to seeing their team fade away at the end of the season. Despite this tough schedule, things do not look bad for the Lions.
Detroit’s week eleven match-up against the 8-1 Arizona Cardinals became slightly easier when Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer tore his ACL in last week’s game against the St. Louis Rams. The Lions’ pass rush looks to have a field day against an inexperienced back-up quarterback. While still not an easy game by any stretch, a win would open up an opportunity for the Lions to advance to 8-2 and become the top team in the NFC.
From there, the Lions must travel to Foxborough to face the AFC leading 7-2 New England Patriots in another tough game. The Patriots high-power offense will be a huge test for Detroit’s defense, which has only allowed three teams to score more than 20 points. While this game will be a nice measuring stick to see where the Lions rank, it loses importance due to the fact that it is out of conference, having a lesser impact on playoff tiebreakers. Still, an optimist might see this as a potential Super Bowl preview.
The three games after New England and Arizona should all be victories, if the Lions hope to win the NFC North. Home games against the Chicago Bears, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Minnesota Vikings are golden opportunities to stack victories and gain momentum leading into the playoffs. The three teams combine for a record of 8-19 and rank 22nd, 27th, and 26th in points per game, respectively. Should the Lions win these three games, they would be, at worst, 10-4 entering the final two games of the season.
Traveling to Chicago in week 16, the Lions could clinch a playoff spot with a victory here, as only two teams in NFL history have ever won 11 games and missed the playoffs. Chicago’s offense has struggled mightily, in no small part due to their grotesque offensive line, and Detroit’s front four will be ready to run free in the Chicago backfield.
When all is said and done, the regular season finale between the Lions and Packers may decide the winner of the NFC North. Having held Aaron Rogers’ offense to only seven points in their week three match-up, Detroit will be looking to shut down the Packers’ offense again. While the Lions’ defense may not be that successful again, a healthy Detroit offense would be more than capable of going toe-to-toe in a shootout.
Many things could change from now to the end of the season, but with the playoffs in sight, Detroit will do whatever it takes to ensure their season will not be another fading memory of what could have been.