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Slumping Detroit Lions can draw inspiration from 2009 Saints, 2012 Ravens

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Limping into the playoffs does not mean you’re destined for a first-round exit.

Detroit Lions v New York Giants Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

The Detroit Lions limped their way into the playoffs. Or backed their way in. Or didn’t even deserve to get in. However you want to put it. The Lions lost three straight games on their way to the postseason and some are giving Detroit “no chance” against the Seattle Seahawks in the opening round of the playoffs.

That sort of sentiment is understandable. Over the past three weeks, the Lions have been outclassed by three straight NFC playoff teams. Two of those teams—the Giants and the Packers—are seeded lower than the Seahawks, so it would certainly seem like an uphill battle from where things stand right now.

But speaking in absolutes is a dangerous game [see: here]. Football is a weird game, and the only true absolute in the NFL is “Any Given Sunday.”

There’s no doubt that the Lions have not played great football over the past three weeks, and it has become pretty clear that Detroit doesn’t match up well against some of the best teams in the NFL. But past performances do not guarantee future results. It’s not hard to find examples of this.

Take the 2009 Super Bowl winning New Orleans Saints. After cruising to a 13-0 start, the Saints crashed to the finish line, losing their last three games of the regular season, though they rested starters for most of Week 17. Still, their final game of the season with their starters playing was an embarrassing home loss against a then 2-12 Buccaneers team. Let’s check in on that fanbase after the loss to the Bucs:

“Not to be debbie downer but maybe we should all pump the brakes on that super bowl talk. Horrible horrible loss.”

“Last week, I blamed the coaching for the Saints loss. Today, I blame it on a lack of hunger from players even though homefield was @ stake.”

And from their wonderful open thread comment section:

back into the playoffs
lose in 1st round

Sean Payton's job is on the line
I say fire him now.

The Saints, of course, did end up going 13-3. No word on the status of any punched babies, but New Orleans would go on to win the Super Bowl that year.

Now, this is far from a perfect comparison. The Saints still finished as the one-seed in the NFC and looked like a far more complete team throughout the year. But the point here is that any notion that a team needs to carry momentum from the regular season or should be “hitting their stride” going into the playoffs is mostly a media-driven narrative and can be easily overcome with a few good games.

Another team that proved that is a team that head coach Jim Caldwell was a part of: The 2012 Baltimore Ravens. After jumping out to a 9-2 record, the Ravens dropped four of their final five games (including another Week 17 featuring rested starters), to limp into the playoffs at 10-6. The Ravens then pulled off four straight wins in the postseason, capped off by a win over the 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII.

Caldwell spoke on Monday about using some of that experience as motivation for the Lions now. “I’m going to draw up on the same things that we went through the first quarter of the season,” Caldwell said, referring to the Lions’ 1-3 start this year. “How we focused, and revamped, and got on a run,” Caldwell continued.

And that’s what the Lions will need to do. All looked gloomy and lost when the Lions were 1-3, hopeless and playing poorly on both sides of the ball. However, they then took it to an undefeated Eagles team and followed it up with wins over the Rams and Washington. Sure, those teams aren’t the Seahawks, Cowboys and Falcons, but let’s just focus on Seattle for now.

Because while the Lions have yet to beat an opponent with more than nine wins on the season, they’re 5-0 against teams with seven or eight wins. They can compete and win against mediocre opponents, and that’s exactly how the Seahawks are playing right now. They’re just 3-3 in their past six games and that includes losses to the Buccaneers and Cardinals and a near loss to 2-14 San Francisco.

I’m not saying the Lions have a real chance at making a Super Bowl run, because I don’t think they truly do. But if you think their performance over the past three weeks gives them no shot against the Seahawks, you haven’t been paying enough attention to this team, nor the history of the NFL playoffs.