The Lions won big on Sunday without playing a game.
Losses by the Green Bay Packers and the Minnesota Vikings thrust an idle Detroit team into first place in the NFC North. All of a sudden, the playoffs are right there in front of them.
But let’s look even further ahead.
Could the Lions make the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history? And is that a totally ridiculous suggestion? Of course it is.
Then again, maybe it’s not.
Here’s our best attempt to counter some of the more common arguments against the Lions achieving the unthinkable.
Their Record Isn’t That Good
So the Lions are 5-4. And no team in the last 13 years has made the Super Bowl after posting fewer than six wins through its first nine games. (The last team to do it? The 2002 Oakland Raiders, who were also 5-4.) But only one team in the NFC has more than six wins at the moment and the 8-1 Dallas Cowboys don’t exactly look unbeatable. Point is, the NFC is wide open and virtually any team looks capable of winning it.
Their Defense Is Bad
By just about any team metric, the Lions’ defense ranks in the bottom half of the league. They’ve struggled against the pass and haven’t been much better against the run. But in the one category that truly matters – points against per game – the Lions are tied for 14th. More importantly, they’re trending in the right direction. After allowing 25.5 points through their first six games, the Lions have held their opponents to an average of 17.6 points in their last three contests. And with Darius Slay on the mend and DeAndre Levy seemingly not far behind him, reinforcements are on the way.
Their Quarterback Can’t Win The Big One
It’s the most common knock against Matthew Stafford. And the numbers, in part, bear it out: in seven NFL seasons, Stafford has yet to win a playoff game. But he’s only had two chances to do so. The first came in 2011, when Stafford threw for 380 yards and three touchdowns in a high-scoring loss to the Saints, and the second came in 2014, when he threw for 320 yards and a touchdown in a tight loss to the Cowboys. So Stafford hasn’t exactly withered on the playoff stage, and he’d be primed for a big performance this year if his strong season continues.
Their Coach Is A Liability
Much has been made about the sideline shortcomings of Jim Caldwell. He’s too conservative. He doesn’t know when to challenge. He can’t manage the clock. But the fact remains that Caldwell has the Lions ahead of Mike McCarthy’s Packers, Mike Zimmer’s Vikings and John Fox’s Chicago Bears in the NFC North. Moreover, he has garnered due praise for his team’s ability to succeed in late-game pressure situations, something that is essential in the playoffs.
They’re The Lions
Ultimately, the lack of belief in the Lions comes back to their history. This team has seen such little success for such a long a time that it feels foolish to expect anything else. But the Lions’ future can’t be judged on their past. Yesteryear has nothing to do with the present. (Didn’t we learn anything from the Cubs?) This is a new season and a new team, and the Lions have a chance to script a new ending.