The Detroit Lions have the third-longest active playoff drought in the NFL. The Lions have not qualified for the playoffs since the 2016 season. Only the New York Jets and Denver Broncos have longer droughts without making the NFL Playoffs.
The Blue and Silver hold another unenviable playoff record. It is one not many teams want to have, and Lions fans are desperate for the team to end. Detroit has not one an NFL Playoff game since 1991. That season saw the Lions defeat the Dallas Cowboys 38-6 in the Divisional round. Barry Sanders was the man in Motor City at the time and the team’s dreams rested on his legs. Detroit went on to lose the NFC Championship Game to the Washington Redskins.
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Indeed, the 1990s were a successful decade for Detroit football. The Lions qualified for the playoffs in six out of nine seasons. Sure, they won just one playoff game during that time, but the Lions made the playoffs, which isn’t something they are now struggling to do.
The success of regularly making the playoffs in the 1990s gave way to a barren spell of postseason games post-Millennium. Since 2000, Detroit has made the playoffs on just three occasions. In 2011, the Lions finished second in the NFL North, with a record of 10-6. Despite a great regular season, the Lions faltered in the playoffs, losing to the New Orleans Saints 45-28 in the Wild Card round.
Three seasons later, Detroit finished second in the NFC North once more. This time, the Lions had an 11-5 record and entered the Wild Card against the Cowboys. Unlike in 1991, the Cowboys were ready and edged Detroit 24-20. After missing the playoffs in 2015, Detroit returned to the NFL postseason in 2016. Once again, the Lions finished second in the North. A 9-7 record allowed the team to sneak into the postseason. There, Seattle Seahawks trounced Detroit 26-6 in the Wild Card round.
In the six subsequent seasons to Detroit’s last playoff berth, the Lions posted a record better than .500 on just two occasions. In 2017, the team went 9-7 and last season, Detroit was 9-8. Although the Lions finished second in the North in both years, it wasn’t good enough to make the NFL Playoffs.
Dan Campbell enters his third season as Lions head coach in 2023. Last season’s 9-8 finish was a massive improvement on the head coach’s first campaign, in which the team went 3-13-1. Campbell is aiming to take another step forward, rather than two backward.
Quarterback Jared Goff will also start his third year in Motor City. He threw for 4,438 yards, 29 touchdowns, and just seven picks in 2022. He too improved after a shaky first campaign. If Campbell and Goff can get things right, then the Lions have a shot at ending their current playoff drought. Who knows? The Lions may end their playoff win nightmare, but let’s not get carried away.