Is Cynicism Warranted For This Detroit Lions Team?
This past Sunday, the Lions followed up a crushing, last-second 16-15 loss at Ford Field to the Titans with a frustrating 31-24 defeat at the hands of the Packers in Lambeau. And just like that, our beloved Lions stand at 1-2.
Despite the second-best point differential among teams with a losing record (-4), there doesn’t feel like a lot of cause for optimism this season. Matthew Stafford is finally garnering consideration as one of the better QBs in the league, and Marvin Jones has thus far proven to be worth the 5-year, $40M deal he received this past offseason. Those silver linings aren’t enough to entirely temper the misfortune that has befallen the team elsewhere.
Several key players have gone down with injuries; Ameer Abdullah is on IR, and the team’s top two defenders, Ezekiel Ansah and DeAndre Levy, seem to be out indefinitely while the organization remains mum on their respective statuses.
The defensive unit of Teryl Austin, who was heralded as a defensive guru and a future head coaching candidate after 2014, has been porous at best. Saying nothing of Austin’s bewildering playcalling last week in Green Bay. Just three games into the 2016 campaign, the Lions are already at a crossroads. Their week four matchup against the dismal Bears (0-3) at Soldier Field is an absolute must-win.
Playoff Chances Based On Early Win-Loss Records
Currently, Football Outsiders gives Detroit just a 27.5% chance of making the playoffs. Indeed, data based on the 1990-2013 NFL seasons seems to corroborate their oddsmaking: only 25% of teams who started 1-2 during that time span went on to make the playoffs. This is why this matchup against the Bears is crucial.
Teams that began 2-2 had a 36% chance of making the playoffs. Roughly one-in-three odds aren’t exactly a sure bet, but the teams that went 1-3 only had a 15% chance of going to the postseason. But, the game isn’t played on paper, and 1-3 in and of itself doesn’t spell necessarily doom for a Stafford-led team that has proven itself to be scrappy, either.
However, the Lions don’t want to be riding a three-game skid into their games with the 3-0 Eagles, who lead the league in point differential (+65), and the 2-1 Rams, because 1-5 teams had a 0% probability of making the NFL playoffs from 1990-2013.
Where The Lions Season Could Go
That’s not to say the team’s matchups against Philly and LA are sure losses, because they’re not. Aside from their victory over the Steelers, the Wentz-led Eagles have beat up on cupcakes (Cleveland, Chicago). The Rams, on the other hand, are one of only two winning teams (the other being the Texans) with a negative point differential. But if the Lions can’t best the Bears, it stands to reason they’ll have little chance against the Eagles. Who handled them 29-14, in one of the tougher venues in the NFL, Lincoln Field.
Not to mention it would be dispiriting for the team to see its six win streak over Chicago to be snapped by what is not only one of the worst Bears squads in recent memory, but arguably the worst team in the NFL this season. Following hypothetical losses to the Bears and the Eagles, the 1-4 Lions would square off against the Rams. With a depleted linebacking corps, a generally anemic defense, and a tumultuous franchise facing its biannual crisis, Detroit would be tasked with slowing down Todd Gurley. Who gashed the Lions for 140 yards and two TDs on sixteen carries in a 21-14 Rams victory last December. As it stands, neither of these will be easy contests, and mounting organizational pressure would only worsen matters.
It Can Be Hard Not To Have Cynicism As A Lions Fan
Perhaps this is classic Lions fan cynicism, but it can’t be expected that the team will respond to adversity similarly to the way it did in the second half of 2016. Matthew Stafford has looked every bit the part of a franchise quarterback the last eleven games, but this matchup against the Bears isn’t a bye week. He’s going to have to outgun a Chicago defense that’s ranked tenth against the pass through three games, because the defense evidently can’t be counted on.
Furthermore, this is a Bears team that has their backs to the wall, as well. Sure, Jay Cutler is unlikely to play, but is Jay Cutler really that much of an upgrade over Brian Hoyer? The Bears may be mired by injuries, but this is the NFL, and anybody can beat anybody on any given Sunday.
They’re fighting for their playoff hopes, and, whether you believe it or not, the Lions are, too.