How Far Away From the Super Bowl are the Detroit Lions?


The NFL will stage its 49th Super Bowl tomorrow and for the 49th time, the Detroit Lions will not be one of the participants. The Lions’ last championship (1957) is so far in the rear view mirror that many believe they will never win another just because they haven’t in over half a century.

But with one of the NFL’s best defenses in 2014 and an offensive core capable of more than they achieved this past season, the Lions might not actually be all that far off from fielding a team capable of competing for a Super Bowl berth.

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ESPN in conjunction with Pro Football Focus went about analyzing each team that didn’t make the two conference championship games to determine how many players away each team is. They defined their methodology as follows:

"When Pro Football Focus analyzed the 28 teams that played in the conference championship games for the 2007 to 2013 seasons, it found that, on average, 40 percent of those rosters were composed of good/elite players (you had to play 250-plus snaps to qualify). Using that methodology, PFF determined how many above-average players stood between your team and contending for this year’s Super Bowl."

Based on that, the Lions checked in five above average players short, sixth-best out of the 28 teams that did not play for their conference championship.

The Lions were given credit for four “elite” players: Calvin Johnson, Ndamukong Suh, DeAndre Levy and Glover Quin. Likewise, the Lions had four “good” players: Ziggy Ansah, Rashean Mathis, James Ihedigbo and Darius Slay.

Being five players short of what the analysis figures is necessary to compete for the Super Bowl, how can the Lions get to the 13 players in the elite and good categories?

It starts with re-signing Ndamukong Suh as his departure add another hole to fill. The same might be said for Rashean Mathis although the Lions need to go about finding a long term solution. For players under contract for 2015, it’s about getting another productive season out of them to make sure they don’t fall back into the “average” category. There is some danger there with James Ihedigbo considering how his performance level faded down the stretch.

Next, the Lions need players already on their roster to step up. Dominic Raiola was one of just three Lions (with Jeremy Ross and Brandon Pettigrew) to land in the “bad” category, but he won’t be back next season. Travis Swanson looked like an easy upgrade when he filled in for the suspended Raiola in the regular season finale, but can he make the jump to above average in his first full year as a starter?

If Nick Fairley can be retained, he should be able to grade out higher than the “average” he received for 2014 by playing a full season. A return to rookie form would also see Larry Warford jump back up into at least the good category.

Then come the wild cards like Matthew Stafford. He has all the physical talent but has been too inconsistent to grade out as more than average. What kind of a step forward will Eric Ebron take in year two? Can the Lions get more out of their 2015 draft class than they received from their rookies in 2014?

The Lions are close enough to competing for a Super Bowl to make the conversation worth while, but too many questions exist to see a clear path to getting there.

Next: A.J. Green Says Calvin Johnson Still NFL's best

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