Despite their record, I wouldn't find it difficult to be optimistic about the Detroit Lions' playoff chances if they were in another division or if they had another schedule. If they played in the NFC East, for example, the Lions would only be a game and a half out of first place. And if they had a schedule that still included games against a bunch of below-.500 teams, they would have a pretty good chance of making a run to the postseason.
Unfortunately for the Lions, they are not in the NFC East and do not have a schedule littered with below-.500 teams. Instead, the Lions are in the NFC North, which includes teams with records of 7-2, 6-3 and 6-4, and their remaining schedule is the toughest in all of the NFL, as noted by Blogging the Beast. The Lions' final seven opponents have a combined record of 45-18. The Minnesota Vikings have the next toughest schedule, and the combined record of their opponents is only 37.5-16.5.
Trust me, I want to keep hopes of the playoffs alive. Just last week, the Lions were actually in a great position in the playoff picture. The loss to the Vikings was just one they could not afford, though. Not only did they lose the tiebreaker to Minnesota, but they fell another step behind the rest of the teams in contention for a wild-card spot. I just can't see the Lions surviving this schedule with a good enough record to make the playoffs.
Week 11: vs. Green Bay Packers (6-3)
Week 12: vs. Houston Texans (8-1)
Week 13: vs. Indianapolis Colts (6-3)
Week 14: at Green Bay Packers (6-3)
Week 15: at Arizona Cardinals (4-5)
Week 16: vs. Atlanta Falcons (8-1)
Week 17: vs. Chicago Bears (7-2)
With the Lions currently at 4-5, they likely will have to go 5-2 the rest of the way just to have an outside chance of making the playoffs. If the Lions can't manage anything better than 8-8, the offseason will start after that Week 17 game against the Bears. Their margin of error is so slim now that they will have to be nearly perfect the rest of the season, and given the level of competition looming in the final seven weeks, near perfection may not even be good enough to overcome a 4-5 start.
I suppose the flip side of all of this is that should the Lions do well enough the rest of the regular season to actually make the playoffs, they could very well be going into the postseason as the hottest team in the NFL. Not only will they have to win a lot of games, but those wins will have to come against teams that will be in the hunt to make a run to the Super Bowl. At the very least, the Lions will certainly earn their playoff spot if they somehow shock the world and become the latest team with a losing record nine games into the regular season to make the postseason.
Realistically speaking, this is not likely to happen. I just hope that the Lions are able to put together a good stretch of games at home the next few weeks to at least keep their playoff hopes alive going into December. I really don't want to have to switch into draft mode already, but another loss by the Lions will really leave us with no other choice.