Detroit Lions: 3 key questions for the final stretch

TAMPA, FL - DECEMBER 10: Detroit Lions players celebrate after recovering a fumble in the second quarter of a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium on December 10, 2017 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
TAMPA, FL - DECEMBER 10: Detroit Lions players celebrate after recovering a fumble in the second quarter of a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium on December 10, 2017 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /
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When it comes to the Detroit Lions, opinions are divided about the head coach, potential X-factor tight end, and the likelihood of a return to the playoffs.

I tuned in a little bit late to Sunday’s game between the Detroit Lions and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Combination of being sick of falling behind 10-0 to start every game and wanting the catch the second half of the Manchester United/Manchester City match.

Apparently, I missed a pretty decent scoring drive in the first quarter. Since those have been in short supply this season, I guess I regret missing it, just a little.

What I didn’t miss was plenty of sloppy play (8 turnovers combined), sloppy officiating (a few bizarre replay sequences), a comfortable lead, and eventually the Matthews (Stafford and Prater) doing their patented late drive/clutch field goal routine to win it.

Matthew Stafford was on fire the majority of the time (36-44 passing, 350+ yards). If not for two questionable decisions (both were intercepted), there’s no way that game is close. Instead of talking about another shaky win against a league bottom-dweller, the story would have been that Stafford had the deadliest passing performance of his career.

Instead, we sit with three games left in the season, in something of a fan purgatory. The Lions just got a crucial win, but not necessarily a satisfying one. They’re getting just enough wins to be in the conversation, but not enough to really get excited about their chances. They don’t look like a playoff team, but the playoffs aren’t out of reach either. The coach has a contract extension, but maybe that doesn’t mean much after all.

With three games left, I offer three interesting story lines to follow as the Lions fight to stay in the hunt for another trip to the postseason.

Key Question 1: How secure is Jim Caldwell’s job?

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It turns out that Caldwell’s contract extension doesn’t exactly give the type of job security that we were led to believe. The secret ‘multi-year’ deal that was supposedly completed well before the season started (but not revealed) doesn’t really guarantee much. They could fire him at any time and only have to pay through one more year. There won’t be any Charlie Weis situation in play here.

A couple weeks ago, I didn’t really think that Caldwell was on the hot seat. I joked that he needed to channel his inner Wayne Fontes, but now that actually seems to be where he’s headed. The organization seems to be hedging its bet with Caldwell. It’s looking more and more as if his fate in Detroit will be determined by the results of these final three games.

Key Question 2: Will the Lions remain slightly better than the B(ad) teams?

The Browns, Bears, and Buccaneers all offered more problems than anticipated. However, the Motown boys pulled off close wins against all three. That’s what a decent team is supposed to do when they face lesser competition. Just take care of business.

The Bears and Bengals are coming up next, yet another two games against ‘B’ teams who the Lions should beat. A loss against either would almost certainly end any postseason pipe dreams. Two wins though…well they’d be right in the mix heading into Week 17.

Key Question 3: Is Eric Ebron finally turning a corner (for real this time)?

I’ve been a little mean to Ebron more than once at this site. I don’t take any of it back, because I feel they were fair critiques of his production. At the same time, the guy also deserves some credit when he plays well.

10 catches for 94 yards yesterday counts as playing well, even though he did fumble. Even before his huge game against the Bucs, Ebron has quietly been playing better during the second half of the season. A touchdown against Cleveland, and a solid four catches in each of the next three games leading into yesterday, as well as fewer issues with drops.

At this point, Ebron being a factor in the passing game is an added bonus rather than the expectation. But what if (and it’s always ‘what if’ with Ebron) he gains confidence and trust from this performance?

Next: For Jim Caldwell, the writing is on the wall

I feel like those people right before daylight savings who always want to be the one to remind you to reset your clocks, but… REMINDER, the Bears game is on SATURDAY, not Sunday. Please reset your schedules by one day this week.