Putting the Detroit Lions Four Game Winning Streak in a New Context


As I traveled home from a great holiday weekend in nothern Michigan, I turned to sports radio to help fight off the sleep I had sacrificed over the past couple days. One show I turned on was airing a “best of” edition due to the holiday and I happened to hear a re-airing of an interview with Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz. When asked about the four game winning streak to end the 2010 season, Schwartz made a comment about it being a feat few NFL teams were able to accomplish. That struck me as interesting as it is a perspective I hadn’t previously considered.

The importance of that winning streak has been a point of debate. Some will argue that it means nothing since momentum can’t carry over from year to year like it might from week to week. Some will argue that its importance can’t be stated enough and that it is proof the Lions are ready to skyrocket into contention in 2011. I believe the truth is somewhere in the middle in this case but I thought it would be interesting to contextualize the argument with the point Schwartz made about relatively few teams being able to string together a four game winning streak at any point during the 2010 season.

Thanks to the people at pro-football-reference.com I was able to quickly scan each teams’ schedule and results and compile a list of AFC and NFC teams that put together winning streaks of at least four games last season. I also added a column to display that final record of each team and a “yes” or “no” column to indicate whether or not that team made the playoffs. What we have here is a classic game of “one of these things is not like the others“:

AFC TeamsRecordPlayoffs?
New England Patriots14-2Yes
New York Jets11-5Yes
Pittsburgh Steelers12-4Yes
Baltimore Ravens12-4Yes
Indianapolis Colts10-6Yes
San Diego Chargers9-7No

NFC TeamsRecordPlayoffs?
New York Giants10-6No
Green Bay Packers10-6Yes
Chicago Bears11-5Yes
Detroit Lions6-10No
Atlanta Falcons13-3Yes
New Orleans Saints11-5Yes

I find it interesting that six teams in each conference had winning streaks of at least four games considering that is the same number of playoff spots. The only AFC team to win at least four straight and not make the playoffs are the San Diego Chargers. Their season was already characterized as something of an oddity as they ranked first in total team defense and team offense so we’re just piling on at this point. The Chargers lost out to the AFC West champion Kansas City Chiefs who were able to win consistently enough to secure a division championship but they never got on a roll in which they won four consecutive games. Our friends in Kansas City may already be hearing that the Chiefs are a likely team to stumble following a successful season and this may be more proof to back up that prediction.

The NFC saw the New York Giants join the Lions as the only teams with a minimum winning streak of four games to not make the playoffs while the Seattle Seahawks and Philadelphia Eagles are the two NFC playoff teams without one. The case of the Seahawks is easily dismissed because they made the playoffs by default as the least-bad team in an awful NFC West. Seeing the Giants on the list as a non-playoff team and the Eagles off it isn’t particularly surprising considering they finished with identical records and the Giants would have been in the playoffs had they been able to tackle DeSean Jackson. Not much separates the Giants and Eagles – one was simply able to put together a longer winning streak than the other.

So what does this all mean for the Lions? For starters, it is nice to see the Lions in such good company. Beyond that, it remains to be seen what effect the four game winning streak will have on the future. Free agency will eventually open and natural roster turnover from year to year will mean that the next season will begin with a slightly different group of players. I do believe that the winning streak to end the 2010 season was a pay-off for the players who had put in the hard work since Martin Mayhew and Jim Schwartz took over. Seeing the work and message from the coaching staff turn into wins should be a motivating factor in moving the Detroit Lions forward. The players can say they were already buying into what the staff was teaching but seeing some wins removes lingering doubt. Something as simple as that can reap benefits into the future.

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