I feel like I’ve stood up too quickly. Don’t get me wrong – the Lions’ metamorphosis from cellar-dweller to contender has been a beautiful process to witness. I think all the day-ones can, and should, take pride in how far their team has come.
But, I’m punting on the hype.
I don’t put much stock into power rankings. I think they’re an asinine exercise at best, and a click-baiting technique at worst. But, I did a double-take when I saw that one major publication had listed the Lions as the second-best team in the NFL. I don’t take much issue with the ranking itself as I do with what it symbolizes.
A lot of people are buying into this team, and it’s not difficult to see why. They’re 3-1 and – depending on who you ask – were a few inches, or maybe a foot, away from being football’s lone undefeated. That’s quite a selling point, but it doesn’t accurately depict the reality of how the Lions have gotten here.
It’s Not About the Results, it’s About the Process
They’ve gone through 2015 Peyton Manning Lite and a Cardinals team that needed overtime to oust the lowly 49ers in what was effectively a soccer match.
They’ve gone through half of Odell Beckham, Jr. and the turnstiles the Giants trot out at offensive tackle.
Two Matt Ryan passes have gone through the hands of Atlanta receivers and into the arms of opportunistic Detroit defenders.
They coasted across the finish line against the Mall of America Fightin’ Keenums after being gifted a fumble by, and an injury to, offensive catalyst Dalvin Cook on the same play.
There are real concerns about the sustainability of their defensive play. They’ve forced some turnovers, but they’ve primarily been the beneficiaries of some bad quarterback play and lucky bounces. Hell, they didn’t force a punt against Atlanta until the 4th quarter. There’s a very good chance Atlanta would have won by three scores were it not for two passes gleaning off the hands of their receivers.
Meanwhile, everyone has somehow neglected to talk about the recent performances of football’s richest man. Stafford’s posted just one touchdown, 473 yards, and a 57.9% completion rate the last two games. He’s looked out of sync with his receivers and his ball placement has been erratic. His line hasn’t done him any favors, either.
He was under siege all day against Minnesota as the guys up front gave up six sacks. The offensive line was a point of emphasis this past offseason, but it felt like 2015 all over again on Sunday. Yes, injuries have ravaged the line, but the best ability is availability and we all saw how the erosion of line depth affected the team down the stretch in 2016.
There’s Still Cause for Optimism
Being 3-1 is great. There are plenty of reasons to feel good about the Lions – Stafford is taking care of the ball, Abdullah has looked great, the pass rush has improved, and the secondary is quietly one of the better groups in the league, to name a few. But, there are real issues that this team has right now.
We’ve reached the quarter pole and many people are claiming it’s difficult to tell who’s a contender and who’s a pretender. That has some merit, but I believe the first month of the season shows you not who the best teams are, but who the worst teams are. The Lions deserve to be in the conversation as a contender. I’m just not quite ready to shout their name the loudest.