Detroit Lions: All of a sudden, playoffs don’t seem so unreachable

T.J. Hockenson, Detroit Lions - Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
T.J. Hockenson, Detroit Lions - Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports /

The Detroit Lions were 1-3 and no one believed they could become relevant again in 2020. But out of nowhere, the playoffs are seriously within reach.

After beginning the 2020 season 0-2 and then falling to 1-3 through the first three weeks of the bye week, nobody thought that the Detroit Lions would get back into the playoff picture. A defense that was in the bottom three teams in the league was the biggest problem, but an inconsistent offense wasn’t doing them any favors either.

However, the Lions have climbed back into playoff talk after reeling out two consecutive wins; one over a hapless Jacksonville Jaguars team, and one over an Atlanta Falcons team that is better than their record indicates. Whatever the team decided to do during the week five bye week, it seems to have worked.

The offense is still inconsistent but is being further hampered by an offensive coaching staff that stubbornly continues to feed an ineffective Adrian Peterson and (along those same lines) questionable play-calling (to put it lightly). Despite the coaching staff inefficiencies, the offense has been able to deliver in key moments and get points on the board when needed most.

The defense, on the other hand, has improved drastically. They aren’t a top-10 unit by any means, but with the switch to a predominantly zone defense, Detroit is suddenly forcing more punts and allowing much fewer points. Just look, they only gave up 22 points to a high-flying Falcons offense that was at full strength.

They’re covering better, they’re suddenly defending the run at an elite level, and pressuring the quarterback much more often. Here’s a saying that should be considered: “Once is chance, twice is a coincidence, third time is a pattern”. If the Lions can once again minimize the impact the Colts on the ground next week, and keep the big plays to a minimum, a pattern of a changed defense will be emerging.

I know a lot of people may be thinking that the Lions have just beaten two of the worst teams in the NFL, and while that is a mostly true statement (the Falcons are better than the record shows), their schedule isn’t exactly getting all that more difficult over the next five to six games.

Next week, the Lions welcome the Indianapolis Colts to town, who will trot a run-down Philip Rivers onto the field. The defense has looked good enough the past two games and can certainly cause Rivers fits on the back-end, especially if they can get Desmond Trufant and/or Justin Coleman back from injuries.

After the Colts, the Lions have four consecutive teams who are all under .500. They draw the Minnesota Vikings, the Washington Football Team, the Carolina Panthers, and the Houston Texans. All of those games are winnable for the Lions and so is the one following those four games, when they travel to Chicago to avenge their week one loss.

The Bears have made a change at quarterback since that game, but the Lions have improved themselves and should have won the first match-up. It’s entirely plausible that the Lions go into Chicago and, this time, finish what they started.

After that, the Lions will face a murderer’s row of opponents from weeks 14 through 16. Those three weeks, Detroit must go toe-to-toe with the Green Bay Packer, the Tennessee Titans, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Right now, the Lions are 3-3. To have a shot at the playoffs they probably need to have a record of at least 10-6. Why don’t they need an 11-5 record to be in consideration? Because of the new playoffs that the NFL just implemented this offseason.

Under the new format, each conference will have seven teams make the playoffs. One winner from each division, and then three wild cards based on the best record. Right now, the divisional leaders would be Philadelphia Eagles, Seattle Seahawks, Chicago Bears, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The wild card spots would go to the Packers, Rams, and Saints.

If the Lions can go 4-1 through the next five games, they would be 7-4 going into the final stretch of big games with the Bears and the murderer’s row mentioned above. If the Lions win in Chicago then they’re 8-4 with a presumed week 17 win versus the Vikings.

Should Detroit manage to squeak in one win in the three-week stretch against the Packers, Titans, and Bucs then they would be 9-6 going into week 17. Again, they presumably beat the Vikings in the final week and finish the year 10-6, right in the heart of things with respect to the wild card spots. And don’t forget, in this situation, the Lions hold head-to-head tiebreakers over the Cardinals, Panthers, and possibly Tampa Bay.

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There’s no guarantee that Detroit doesn’t relapse into the team we all saw in the first four weeks, but it seems so far that they got right over the bye week. They have the easy schedule needed and the expanded playoffs too. Make no mistake about, the Lions have positioned themselves to make a legitimate playoff run in December.