Although the seventh week of the NFL season isn't technically complete just yet, I'm ready to start looking ahead to the Rams game on November 1 and the rest of the season in general. The bye week was a nice break for both the team and fans, because everyone really needed a week off. The team needed it to rest up and get healthy, and for me, at least, it was nice to just relax on a Sunday for a change, though I'm anxious for the Lions to get back on the field.
As we look ahead to the second part of the season, the schedule doesn't exactly get any easier. Before the season it looked like that would be the case, and although the Rams present one of the most winnable games on the schedule, it's not going to be all that easy after Sunday. Here is a full look at the rest of the schedule:
vs. St. Louis Rams
at Seattle Seahawks
at Minnesota Vikings
vs. Cleveland Browns
vs. Green Bay Packers
at Cincinnati Bengals
at Baltimore Ravens
vs. Arizona Cardinals
at San Francisco 49ers
vs. Chicago Bears
I break down the final ten weeks of the season into five different parts. The first part is the Rams game on Sunday, which, like I said, is one of the most winnable games on the schedule. I won't have as much faith in the Lions winning if Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson don't play, but the Rams are not very good. That is a game the Lions should and have to win.
Moving on to the next little section of the schedule, the Lions have two tough road games. The Seahawks have been a very inconsistent team this season, showing they can be beat. I would give the Lions a legitimate shot at Ford Field, but Qwest Field is one of the toughest places to play in the entire league. The same can be said for the Metrodome. The Vikings already beat the Lions in Detroit, and despite their loss to Pittsburgh, they are playing solid football right now. Of course, the Lions did have a halftime lead against the Vikings before falling apart in the third and fourth quarters, so an upset isn't exactly out of the question.
The next part of the schedule is a pair of home games that occur basically within days of each other. The first is against the Browns, which is also one of the most winnable games on the schedule. The Browns have at least won a game, but they are on the same level as the Rams as far as I'm concerned. The Packers, on the other hand, are a very good team, as we found out last week. Playing them on Thanksgiving should be fun, and I think anything could happen in this game. The Packers will obviously be favored, but an upset would not surprise me.
The fourth part of the schedule is two tough road games against AFC North teams. The first is at Cincinnati, which is certainly looking much tougher than I ever expected it to be. The Bengals are a good team, and they showed that yesterday by absolutely destroying the Bears. The other road game in this section of the schedule is against the Ravens. They have struggled a bit lately, but playing at Baltimore won't be an easy task by any means.
The final part of the schedule is a pair of games against NFC West teams and the season finale against the Bears. The Cardinals come to Ford Field on December 20, and although I originally thought an upset was possible in this game, I'm not so sure after watching Arizona go into Giants Stadium and leave with a victory. They seem to be getting things going again, and while December 20 is a long time from now, that appears to be the toughest home game left on the schedule. Next up for the Lions is a game at the 49ers. They appear to be a much better team than most anticipated, and who knows what kind of team they will be by the end of the year. Alex Smith is now their starting quarterback, and if he suddenly turns his career around, they could be a team that makes some noise, especially with Michael Crabtree finally playing. The final game of the season is against the Bears at home. The Lions showed that they can beat Chicago earlier this month, though it was only for one half. A four-quarter effort at home against the Bears that includes no special teams mistakes could mean the season ends on a positive note.
So, what does all of this mean? Well, after looking at each game, I came to the conclusion that the realistic best-case scenario for the rest of the season is a 5-5 finish. For that to happen, the Lions would have to win the games they should (Rams, Browns), pull off a couple upsets at home, and steal a game on the road. I think it is asking too much for a couple upsets on the road to happen or the Lions to finish with a perfect home record from here on out, so I settled on 5-5 as the best-case scenario. The worst-case scenario, on the other hand, is a 1-9 finish. For that to happen, this recent injury bug would have to stick around for the rest of the season, and outside of one win in either the Rams or Browns games, things would go poorly in every other matchup.
To come to a happy medium in between the best- and worst-case scenarios, I think a 3-7 finish is the most likely scenario for the rest of the season. In this scenario the Lions would beat St. Louis and Cleveland and then pull off an upset in one of the other home games. I'd like to realistically predict that the Lions will win a road game this season, but none of them look all that winnable. The Lions' best shot at a road win will probably be at San Francisco, but the 49ers could be battling for a playoff spot by the time this game happens, so that would make it even tougher.
The above-described most likely scenario for the rest of the season assumes that Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson return to the starting lineup soon and don't suffer any more injuries, and that this team in general gets healthier than it has been so far this season. If injuries continue to pile up, then I could see the worst-case scenario happening, but if this team can stay healthy for the most part, it has a shot at finishing 6-10, which is what I actually predicted before the season.
More than anything, the one thing I hope to see the rest of the season is continued improvement on both sides of the ball and special teams. If the Lions could put together a solid finish with noticeable improvement, that would be great momentum heading into 2010 and beyond.
What do you guys think?