Jim Caldwell’s Success On Thanksgiving, Which Lions Are Likely To Make The Pro Bowl, And The Lions Playoff Outlook.
Question One: How Good Or Bad Is Jim Caldwell’s History As Head Coach On Thanksgiving?
While Jim Caldwell was the head coach for the Colts in the 2009, 2010, and 2011 seasons, Indianapolis did not play a game on Thanksgiving. The Lions get a Thanksgiving game every single season and has been a tradition for Detroit since 1945. The Lions are approaching a .500 record for the day, currently 37-38-2. If they win this Thursday against the Minnesota Vikings, they will be. Jim Caldwell has helped this record improve the past three seasons, notching wins in his first three Thanksgiving games in Detroit.
His first game came against the visiting Chicago Bears who were 5-6 at the time, with Detroit boasting a 7-4 record. The Lions offense cruised to their 34-17 win with quarterback Matthew Stafford throwing for 39o yards, with 146 of them and both his touchdowns going to retired Lions receiver Calvin Johnson. Running back Joique Bell had two scores on the day as well.
The Lions played the Eagles on his second Thanksgiving game during the 2015 season. The Lions started off the season very poorly, firing their offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi after offensive anemia caused the team to start 1-6. They end up winning two games heading into the Thanksgiving week that gave the offense the spark they needed. The Lions rout the Eagles, winning 45-13 with Matthew Stafford throwing for 337 yards and 5 touchdowns. Ziggy Ansah added 3.5 sacks on the defensive side as well.
Last season the Detroit Lions also faced the Minnesota Vikings and won, but in a much closer game than the previous two at 16-13. This was a defensive dog fight that was ultimately won when cornerback Darius Slay picked off Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford late in the 4th quarter with the game tied. He baited the quarterback by looking like he was going to take the deeper route, but jumped underneath in trap coverage and got the interception with thirty seconds left in the game. The interception set up a 40-yard Matt Prater field goal that won the Lions the game.
Question Two: Which Lions Do You Think Will Make It To The Pro Bowl?
While the NFL’s Pro-Bowl has lost it’s prestige in some fans eyes, to many players it is still a badge of honor in the league. Darius Slay is one Lion that has been eager for a chance to represent the Honolulu Blue at the NFL’s All-Star exhibition game. He may finally get his chance this year as Slay has been one of the best defensive backs in the league this year, shutting down Julio Jones and Antonio Bryant this year when shadowing them.
per PFF, in 6 games shadow coverage (64%+ routes each) vs. OBJ, Julio, Kelvin, Michael Thomas, Antonio Brown, and Jordy, Darius Slay's given up just 13 catches, 193 yards, 1 TD (TD was Kelvin) https://t.co/7KRjcEQVhw
— Danny Kelly (@DannyBKelly) November 8, 2017
Another Lion that deserves some Pro-Bowl love is Lions safety Glover Quin. He has been the true veteran leader of this defense on and off the field. Many of the Lions young defensive backs have attributed “GQ” with some of their development with his knowledge that comes with nearly nine years in the league. Quin has also been on of the top three safeties in the entire NFL so far this season. He is physical and decisive against the run, while using his football IQ and quick diagnosing of offenses to lurk or play center field to generate turnovers against the pass.
On the offensive side of the ball, quarterback Matthew Stafford deserves serious consideration. While being sacked eight more times than the next closest quarterback in the top 10, he is still top five in terms of passing yardage (4th) and touchdowns (3rd) in the league. While his completion percentage numbers are down, he has taken care of the football in the air, only throwing five interceptions. Receivers Golden Tate and Marvin Jones deserves some consideration as well with their “yards after catch” ability and success in the deep passing game.
Question Three: What Does The Lions Road To The Playoffs Look Like?
The Lions are currently the 7th ranked team in the NFC with their 6-4 record, so they are in a good place right now to make it to the playoffs for the third time in Jim Caldwell’s four years in Detroit. The road ahead looks really nice for the Lions in terms of strength of schedule. Outside of the Vikings on Thanksgiving, the Lions do not have a single opponent with a winning record left on their schedule.
They have already faced each one of their divisional opponents on the road and won each game. Starting with the Vikings this week, the Lions play still have one game to play against each team at home. Winning at home is much easier than on the road in the NFL, so each of those games looks promising with the Lions having the home field advantage this time.
While no win is easy in the NFL, their remaining away games present favorable match ups against teams that have had some real struggles this year in the Buccaneers, Bengals, and Ravens. However, it is worth noting that each of these teams has performed better recently and if any of them enter their game against the Lions on a hot streak, it could be a different ball game.
Ultimately, the Detroit Lions will likely need wins in at least four out of the six remaining weeks given how well the NFC is doing as a conference this season. Anything less than a 10-6 record is unlikely to have a shot this year in their conference, especially considering their losses to other NFC playoff hopefuls in the Saints, Panthers, and Falcons. The Lions still very much control their own destiny here, but if they can win against their division at home and win one game out of the Buccaneers, Bengals, or Ravens, they reach 10 wins and have a real shot at a wildcard spot.
Being two games back from the Vikings with six weeks left is still enough time for the Lions to compete for the division still and win a playoff birth outright. Their path to the playoffs is still very much alive and looks quite possible.