Is the NFC North inept enough for the Lions to make a title challenge?

Tue, Oct 26, 2010 at 1:41 am ET

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Jim Schwartz throwing the greatest challenge flag in NFL history

Jim Schwartz is certainly hoping his Lions can make a run at the playoffs

Assuming Detroit’s goal is to win the NFC North, Week 7 of the 2010 NFL season may have been the Lions most productive performance in quite some time.

Two of the Lions’ three “Norris Division” contenders getting clipped was an obvious positive, and the bye week, of course, meant Detroit was atypically safe from suffering its 6th loss of the season.

The fact that these two blessings coincided, well, again: let’s just say that, for 2.5  NFL seasons, Week 7 was about as good as it gets for the boys in Honolulu Blue.

But wait…there’s more. Let alone the losses themselves, did you happen to catch any of the Packers, Vikings, and Bears this weekend? Oh my, it wasn’t pretty.

If the Packers offense was ever on the same page, it was in different books; Brett Lorenzo Favre played about as well as he would have in a Rascal – and may have actually needed one at the end; and the Bears participated in possibly the sloppiest game in recent NFL memory, not to mention against Detroit’s Week 8 opponent, the Washington Redskins.

Combined, the three active NFC North offenses turned the ball over 11 times in Week 7, and, ultimately, one has to wonder just how capable any of them are of cementing a playoff birth anytime soon.

Enter the Detroit Lions, who, at 1-5, certainly don’t appear any more capable than the rest at first glance.  With a closer look, however, one sees that Jim Schwartz’s team might just have an outside shot at what few ever considered possible…

Before we look at the Lions’ remaining schedule, and how they could actually pull this off, I ask you to consider these facts:

  • The Lions have only played two home games

    Shaun Hill - Detroit Lions

    Shaun Hill proved quite capable as a backup, but how much more could the Lions have gotten out of a healthy Matthew Stafford?

  • The Lions are 1-1 at home
  • Six of the remaining ten games on Detroit’s schedule are at home
  • The Lions have three NFC North games left – all three are at home
  • The average margin of defeat in the Lions five losses this year is 6.4 points
  • 94% of the Lions’ pass attempts this season have been with a 2nd or 3rd string QB under center
  • Defensively, the Lions rank 13th or better in the NFL for Passing TD’s allowed, Interceptions, and Sacks
  • Detroit’s +1 turnover margin ranks 12th in the NFL
  • At 1-5, the Lions have only two more losses than the teams currently tied for first place in the NFC North (Chicago and Green Bay, both at 4-3)

Okay, with those nuggets resting snugly in the back of your mind, let’s look at Detroit’s remaining schedule:

  • vs. Redskins
  • vs. Jets
  • @ Bills
  • @ Cowboys
  • vs. Patriots
  • vs. Bears
  • vs. Packers
  • @ Buccaneers
  • @ Dolphins
  • vs. Vikings

The Lions have already played three of those remaining opponents:  They lost the season opener at Chicago due to the “Calvin Johnson Rule;” fell 24-10 at Minnesota in Week 3; and again to Green Bay, at Lambeau, 28-26 in Week 4.

Matthew Stafford is scheduled to return Week 8 against the Washington Redskins

Matthew Stafford is scheduled to return Week 8 against the Washington Redskins. Can the 2009 #1 overall draft pick out of Georgia lead the Lions on a historic run?

Lions’ starter Matthew Stafford was injured in the 1st half of that opener at Soldier Field, and, as alluded to above, Shaun Hill and Drew Stanton have quarterbacked the Lions on every offensive down since.

Stafford, the #1 overall pick in 2009, is scheduled to return this week against the Redskins, however, and if we operate under the assumption that a starter should perform at least marginally better than his backups, it stands to reason that the Lions could be even more competitive in the second half of the season.

Now, considering all that’s been highlighted thus far, I see seven of what I’d identify as “reasonably winnable” games left on Detroit’s schedule:

  1. Week 8 vs. Redskins: at home, with an extra week to prepare, and against a team that’s looked quite suspect thus far (especially last week against the Bears)

    Calvin Johnson's "catch" versus the Chicago Bears

    If the Lions make a run, how much bigger does this play become?

  2. Week 10 @ Bills: It’s the Buffalo Bills!
  3. Week 11 @ Cowboys:  The Cowboys were already in shambles, and Tony Romo is now likely out for the year. Lions have a shot here, and a “reasonable” one for sure.
  4. Week 13 vs. Bears: At Ford Field, and – let’s be honest – the Lions have already beat the Bears this year in Chicago. This one could complete what should have been a sweep of the Bears in 2010.
  5. Week 14 vs. Packers: Lions lost by two at Lambeau, get the rematch in Detroit, and the Packers are even more banged up now than they were then.
  6. Week 15 @ Buccaneers: Two rebuilding teams, and by all means a “reasonably winnable” game for the Lions. Flawed or not, using the common opponent test (St. Louis), Detroit has a substantial edge.
  7. Week 17 vs. Vikings: If all else goes according to plan, this will almost certainly be a must win game.  Assuming Minnesota is full strength, it’s also probably the longest shot of the “reasonably winnable” games. Detroit doesn’t match up well with the Vikings, but they weren’t exactly blown out in Week 3 either.  At home, the last game of the season, and possibly with something to play for, anything is possible for Detroit here.
NFC North Logos

Could a 7-9 record be good enough to win the NFC North this year?

That miraculous run would get Detroit to 8-8 – which, in light of the current NFC North Standings, could very well be enough to win the division.  Even if the Lions dropped a game or two of those seven, they could still get “lucky” in one or more of the games at home versus the Jets and Patriots, or, more likely, on the road at Miami.

On top of that, the remaining schedules for the Bears, Packers, and Vikings aren’t necessarily cakewalks, and if the Stafford led Lions start to roar, they can probably count on some help along the way.

Could 7-9 be good enough to win the NFC North? At least force a tiebreaker?  Not going to call it anything other than an interesting, not so unreasonable possibility, but if the Lions can win their remaining divisional home-stands, the rest of the schedule sets up nicely.

Incidentally, if the Lions pulled this off, it wouldn’t be the first time such a perfect storm has come to fruition. The 1970 Cincinnati Bengals actually started 1-6 prior to winning seven straight and securing a playoff spot.

40 years seems like a “reasonable” wait to weather such a storm again, no?

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4 Responses to “Is the NFC North inept enough for the Lions to make a title challenge?”

  1. Chris M. Says:

    In case you needed more proof @YieldtoFrump was a State fan, read his justification of the Lions making the playoffs: http://bit.ly/bFDV53

  2. latexlatina Says:

    This article is saying that 7-9 could be enough to with the NFC North. Thats not really surprising. Over all, for the past 2 decades, thats been pretty much the norm for that division, with the exception of one or two seasons that Farve-led teams did well. And the NFC West is the weakest division in football? Right.

  3. Ciaran Says:

    Latexlatina,

    First off, thanks for reading.

    The NFC North’s current alignment (Chicago, Detroit, Green Bay, Minneosota) has been in place since 2002. Here are the records of the division winners since that time:

    12-4, 10-6, 10-6, 11-5, 13-3, 13-3, 10-6, 12-4. Beyond that, no team has won the division with a less than 10 win season since 1983 (Curiously, Detroit won the NFC North with a 9-7 record that year).

    With that in mind, I’d say someone winning the NFC North with a 7-9, 8-8, or even 9-7 record this year would be a fairly remarkable event – and yet we might just get to see it…

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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