At 5-3 through the first half of the season, the Lions are currently a half game behind Green Bay for first place in the division. This has led a lot of fans here to dream big. To dream about a division championship, and a bye in the playoffs, and hosting a playoff game for the first time in two decades. It's time for a reality check.
Detroit will not win the division. Detroit will have their work cut out for them just to get the 6th seed in the NFC. I've taken it upon myself to tell you why.
1. Green Bay is good.
Their two losses came on the road against a 6-2 San Francisco team that should easily take the 5th seed in the NFC, and a 6-2 Bengals team that should do the same in the AFC.
San Francisco finishes the season @WAS, vs. STL, vs. SEA, vs. ATL, @TB, and @AZ over the last 6 weeks. With that schedule, they should finish at least 11-5, more likely 12-4. At 12-4, they may actually challenge Seattle for the division.
Green Bay also lost to a Cincinnati team that is lights out at home. In 4 home games against PIT, GB, NE, and NYJ, the Bengals are 4-0, having scored 116 points while giving up only 55 points (30 of which came from the Green Bay Packers). And that's against some pretty stiff competition.
In 4 road games, the Bengals have scored 81 points and given up 89 points. In other words, the Bengals are two different teams at home vs. on the road. The Bengals team we barely lost to was not the same Bengals team the Packers barely lost to.
2. Detroit keeps games close.
This is a double edged sword. Sure, we almost came back against the Bengals, and we actually completed an amazing comeback against the Cowboys. Hey, it's fun football to watch, no doubt. But the other edge of that sword shows a close loss to Arizona, a game against Chicago we almost let them back into, and a game against Washington that I'm not so sure we'd win if we played them now. Our losses have been close, but so have our wins.
Of the Lions' 8 games, 5 of them have been within one score when the clock hit zeros. That's a recipe for a team that should finish closer to .500. The Lions are 3-2 in those games, by the way.
3. The Lions' remaining schedule may not be as easy as it appears.
Even though the Giants currently are slotted for the 4th overall pick in next year's draft, they're still only two games out of FIRST PLACE in their division. They've also won two straight entering their bye week with a game against the Raiders slotted next. Sure, they play the Packers after that, but their next two games are division matchups that could turn the tide of the NFC East division race. If they can win those games, they'll come into Ford Field having won 5 or 6 of their past 7 with a reason to play well. Sure, they may come into Detroit with a 5-9 record too, but the point is this is still a talented team with half a season to play of their own.
Philadelphia's QB situation has been a revolving door of late, but who's to say they won't find their stride before December? This is a team who lost two close games to the Chargers and the Giants (last week), but their 3 other losses were to Kansas City, Denver, and division leading Dallas.
Pittsburgh is a team that's just played the wrong teams at the wrong time. They started off against a really solid looking Tennessee team, then went in to Cincinnati (see above), and followed that by hosting the red hot Bears with a healthy Jay Cutler. After Sunday, they'll have just 3 road games left on the schedule with two games against Cleveland, a game against the Bills, a game against the floundering Dolphins (see what I did there?) and a game against the Lions. This is a team that could finish a lot closer to .500 than people are expecting.
Then we have Baltimore. The Super Bowl Champs who, besides two matchups against the Bengals, are through the meat of their schedule. This team will still compete for a playoff spot by season's end.
So sure, these teams may each lose 3 of their next 4 and phone in the rest of the season. But until that happens, this is still a dangerous schedule we have left. So temper your expectations and enjoy watching some of the 2013 season storyline unfold during the Lions bye week. I suggest keeping an eye on Pittsburgh @ New England.