Detroit Lions? Playoffs? It’s very possible

After getting dump-trucked by the Kansas City Chiefs 45-10 across the pond in London three weeks ago, team owner Martha Ford abruptly fired now former team president Tom Lewand and General Manager Martin Mayhew. Since then, the Detroit Lions have won back-to-back games for the first time since winning in weeks 15 and 16 last season.

Based purely on results so far, the surprising firings in the front office have appeared to light some sort of fire under the rear ends of both the players and coaches. In their last two wins, they have stifled the Green Bay Packers, a perennial power every season, on the road and kept an Oakland Raiders offense that ranks near the top third in points per game and passing yards in check. The Lions defense has given up just 29 total points and less than 100 total yards on the ground in the last two games.

The offense meanwhile, albeit still not clicking as consistent as fans would like to see, has managed the game from start to finish carefully. By and large, they have controlled the time of possession and only committed one turnover, an interception that frankly was just a better play by the defender in my opinion.

Now sitting at 3-7 overall, the Lions are no longer the league’s bottom dweller, with three AFC teams at 2-8. However, they are still tied for the worst record in the NFC with the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers. Still, as inept as they have been this season and for decades, with six games to go in the regular season, the Lions still have a rather decent chance of making the playoffs.

“How?” you might ask? Because the overall mediocrity of the entire NFL in 2015. Only seven teams have a record of 7-3 or better. There are 18 teams within a game above or below the .500 mark.

According to PredictionMachine.com’s ranking of each team’s strength of schedule, the Lions have the third easiest slate of games remaining. With the exception of playing the 7-3 Packers at home next Thursday (12/3), every team the Lions play for the rest of the season is 4-6 or worse. The 3-7 Niners are also on that favorable schedule.

Let’s break down those opponents:

  • First up is the Philadelphia Eagles on Thanksgiving. They have lost three of their last four and just got blasted 45-17 at home to Tampa Bay and rookie quarterback Jameis Winston. There are plenty of rumblings out of Philly that players are mentally checked out and not giving full effort anymore. As painful as it has been for Eagles fans, they are still one game behind the division-leading Giants, which speaks to how bad the NFC East is.
  • After a home game the following Thursday vs Green Bay, the Lions hit the road for two road games indoors. The first is against the St. Louis Rams, who have lost three straight games. Their offensive numbers as a team are among the worst in the league, but they have a top-10 defense in terms of points per game.
  • The Lions will then head down south to the ‘Big Easy’ to face the New Orleans Saints. Quite the opposite of the Rams, New Orleans can light up the scoreboard with ease, but their defense can’t stop a nosebleed. In their last three games, the Saints have given up 47, 34, and 49 points respectively.
  • Following the two-game road swing, Detroit comes home to play their NFC West counterpart in the 49ers. San Francisco sits in the basement in what has been just an all-around bad season on both sides of the ball, headlined by a quarterback that has zero confidence. If I were a betting man, San Francisco is a lock for a top-5 pick in next year’s NFL Draft.
  • To cap off the season, the Lions will play their division rival Chicago Bears in the Windy City. The Bears looked as awful as Detroit through their first seven games but since then have two road victories, one in San Diego and St. Louis. They also nearly won at home against a strong 8-2 Denver team. Detroit won their first meeting vs the Bears back in mid-October, 37-34 in overtime.
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There are also some factors that may help or hurt the Lions’ chances of making the playoffs:

  • Atlanta, sitting at 6-4 and currently sitting in one of the two Wild Card spots, has lost three straight and has the toughest schedule remaining in the NFL. They are trending down, and quickly.
  • Seattle is 5-5, but they hold a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Lions, so that’s essentially an extra game they have on Detroit. The Seahawks could very well have a much better record, but they have blown leads in multiple games that cost them victories. They are 2-2 in their division, both wins against the last-place 49ers.
  • The Vikings  are sitting atop the NFC North tied with Green Bay (technically 2nd place because they lost to Green Bay over the weekend). Still, they are one of the league’s biggest surprises this season. They also have already won both games against Detroit. They have to self-destruct to miss the playoffs at this point, whether it’s a division crown or a Wild Card spot.

Don’t get your hopes up, Lions fans, it isn’t worth the stress. But there is a chance….a slim chance.

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