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Lions face long odds to return to playoffs, but hopes aren't doomed yet

The Detroit Lions certainly will have a tough time making the playoffs after starting 1-3, but it's been done before.

Kevin C. Cox - Getty Images

Despite only being a quarter of the way through the regular season, there's a sense among a lot of Detroit Lions fans that this is already a wasted year. With the Lions losing their last three games and opening the season 1-3, they have certainly fallen well behind the rest of the NFC when it comes to the race for the postseason. There's no spinning how bad the Lions' start to the season has been because at the end of the day, they are a 1-3 team and are in the cellar of the NFC.

While the Lions have a lot of work to do on the field before they even can worry about returning to the playoffs, it's far, far too early to write off this season. Things don't look promising, sure, and the odds are stacked against the Lions, but let's not throw the towel in after four weeks of the regular season.

The fact of the matter is that a 1-3 start doesn't equal complete doom for a team's playoff chances. The odds aren't great considering 85.3 percent of 1-3 teams end up missing the playoffs, but we haven't yet reached the point where it would take a miracle for the Lions to reach the postseason for the second consecutive season. I say that because 1-3 teams make the playoffs more often than you might think:

As Paula Pasche pointed out on Twitter, the Lions themselves have shaken off a 1-3 start before to make the playoffs. In 1995, the Lions actually opened with three consecutive losses before picking up a win in Week 4 to improve to 1-3 heading into their bye week. (Sound familiar?) The Lions didn't exactly turn things around with that victory, though. They were actually 3-6 at one point in 1995 before closing out the season with seven wins in a row to make the postseason.

Back in 2010, the Minnesota Vikings' official site compiled a list of all the teams that made the playoffs after starting 1-3 since 1990. The list includes a few teams that have made the conference title game, and it also includes the 2001 New England Patriots, which went on to win the Super Bowl after starting 1-3.

Still not buying this as a reason to be hopeful? Enter Tim Tebow and the 2011 Denver Broncos. They actually got off to a 1-4 start, lost their final three games and still made the playoffs. The key for Denver was a going on a hot streak in the middle of the season where they won seven of eight games. The only loss in that stretch was a 45-10 defeat to -- who else -- the Detroit Lions.

The next two weeks will be the biggest test for the Lions in terms of whether or not we should declare this season over in October. A loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 6 would drop the Lions to 1-4 and put their hopes of making the playoffs on life support. Tebow and the Broncos last year showed that it can be done, but that's a lot of ground to make up in the NFC.

Even if the Lions do lose to the Eagles, I personally wouldn't write off the season until Week 7. If the Lions went on to lose to the Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football, dropping their record to 1-5, then you could pretty much close the book on any shot at the playoffs. As pointed out by Dave Birkett, the 1970 Cincinnati Bengals are the only team in NFL history to make the playoffs after a 1-5 start. I can't see the 2012 Lions shaking off a 1-5 start to make the playoffs based on the rest of their schedule, so the next two weeks could ultimately decide the fate of the 2012 season.

Based on the first four weeks, it certainly doesn't seem like the Lions are destined to be a playoff team. Considering they can't even keep teams out of the end zone on special teams, I don't fault anybody who is losing hope. Hell, I personally didn't think the Lions would make the playoffs even before the season, and I especially don't think they will now. My point is this: 12 more games are on the schedule for the Lions. That's a lot of football left to be played. Perhaps their hot streak will simply come in the middle of the season instead of at the start like last year. Or perhaps it won't come at all. That's the point. We just don't know yet. The situation doesn't look good, but I'm not ready to start talking about draft positioning just yet.

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