By Chris Morgan
After playing half of their schedule, the Detroit Lions have a bye this week. They get the chance to rest up and prepare for their remaining eight games. Right now, they are 5-3, which means the playoffs are a real possibility. This is especially true because of the way the rest of the NFC has played out. If you ask many a football watcher, they will tell you the battle for the final wild card spot in the NFC basically comes down to Detroit and the Carolina Panthers. If the Lions can just repeat their first half performance and finish 10-6, the playoffs should be theirs. How will that happen if it does? What does Detroit need to do to try and secure a playoff spot?
Easy second-half schedule
For starters, the schedule the Lions have the rest of the way is a true gift to them. Here is just a quick look at who they have to face from here on out: At Chicago, at Pittsburgh, home against Tampa Bay, home against Green Bay, at Philadelphia, home against Baltimore, home against New York Giants and at Minnesota.
Look at those teams! Those are some of the league’s worst teams. Most of them have losing records. Next week the Lions play Chicago who are without quarterback Jay Cutler. The Lions have their two toughest matchups, the Packers and Ravens, at home. Plus, their game against Green Bay is on Thanksgiving. All of these games are winnable. It would be a surprise if they went worse than 4-4 the rest of the way, which would give them a winning record. Unless something goes very awry, the Lions should win at least a few of their remaining games.
Possible offensive weapons
On offense, the Lions don’t really have any worries. They have done well rushing the ball and, in particular, passing the ball. Their only concern may be keeping their offensive line healthy, as they have had injury issues at tackle. Additionally, it would be beneficial for them to have a second receiver emerge behind Calvin Johnson. Perhaps that player will be Nate Burleson. He has been out with a broken arm, but should return soon. Could he give the Lions that secondary option that isn’t a running back? It would certainly help Matthew Stafford, not that he’s needed it thus far.
Defense needs to step up
The defensive side of the ball is a bit more concerning for Detroit. While they have been good against the run, they have struggled against the pass. They’ve given up big plays, and their cornerbacks have rotated in and out of the lineup based on whether or not they are being benched for poor play at any given moment. While Chris Houston should be fine, they don’t have a clear number two cornerback, and they may not find one. If that is the case, they need their pass rush to improve. Is Ziggy Ansah ready to be a true difference maker going forward? More importantly, will DT Nick Fairley pick up his play? He and Ndamukong Suh were supposed to be a dynamic duo. That hasn’t been the case yet.
The Lions are off to a good start to the season. With a couple of minor improvements, an easy schedule should carry them to the playoffs.
For more Lions news and updates, visit Lions Central.
Chris Morgan has been a diehard Detroit Lions fan through the good (Barry Sanders) and the bad (Matt Millen) and that love has led him to take jobs writing about sports, including as a fantasy sports “expert.” His work can be found on Examiner.com. .