Can the Detroit Lions make the playoffs in 2011? NFL.com senior writer Steve Wyche think so.
The possibility has been posed around Detroit since the Lions’ 2010 season ended with a four game winning streak (Including two wins on the road!). Wyche’s article is the first evidence that the national media is strongly buying in to what the Lions are doing. Hold on Lions fans, the fever is spreading beyond those talk radio callers that have bellies full of cornbread floating in Kool-Aid.
Every year since 1996, at least five teams have made the playoffs after missing them the season before. It is on that premise that Wyche picks three NFC teams and two AFC teams that were not playoff-bound in 2010 that could be ready to make the jump in 2011. His AFC teams are the Houston Texans and the San Diego Chargers. His NFC teams are the Tampa Bay Bucs, St. Louis Rams and Detroit Lions.
It could be argued that picking the Lions is the most dangerous of the five. The San Diego Chargers are no stranger to the playoffs but had a down year. Their return to the playoffs should be expected, especially in the AFC West. The Houston Texans have been the league’s chic pick as an up and coming team for a few years now. They have had some decent seasons but remain on the outside looking in and are bound to break through sooner or later.
The Tampa Bay Bucs have young offensive talent all over the place. Josh Freeman is the real deal, LeGarrette Blount went from undrafted to a 1,000 yard rusher in a matter of months and Mike Williams put up big receiving numbers as a rookie drafted in the middle rounds. That is a lot to have to look forward to, especially considering I haven’t even mentioned their 2010 first round pick (number three overall), defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. Their biggest obstacle may be the division they play in but the Bucs definitely have the look of a team in waiting.
The Rams got more out of Sam Bradford last year than the Lions have gotten out of Matthew Stafford in his two seasons on the roster. They can cross the quarterback position off their needs list with a thick red line and move on without thinking twice. Stephen Jackson is still a running back that can make defenses worry and the Rams have some playmakers on defense. Like the Lions, the Rams may be a couple additions away from playoff contention. Oh yeah, playing in the NFC West doesn’t hurt the Rams’ chances either.
That brings us to the Lions. If you’re like me, the first thing you thought when you saw the Lions mentioned with the Bucs and Rams is, hey, the Lions beat both of those teams last season! That’s right. The Lions biggest obstacle won’t be overcoming the non-playoff teams they are competing against, it will be jumping the teams that have already been there. Green Bay and Chicago will present challenges within the division while there are certain to be wild card contenders from the NFC South and East that know what it takes to get to the playoffs.
Not surprisingly, Steve Wyche says the Lions’ ability to compete for a playoff spot rests solely on Matthew Stafford‘s health:
I’m not kidding, but everything hinges on QB Matthew Stafford staying on the field. I’m pegging him to do so and for Detroit to be a wild-card team. The Lions finished on a four-game winning streak and have learned what it takes to compete. They lost six games (Detroit finished 6-10) by five points or less. Those are games in which Stafford could have made the difference. The last two rookie classes have been solid — especially defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh — and general manager Martin Mayhew and coach Jim Schwartz have shown that they’ve got things on the right track.
OK, now it’s your turn: will the Lions make the playoffs in 2011?