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The next 3 games will determine the Lions' true identity

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What will the Lions identity be in 2017? Now is the time to find out.

Carolina Panthers v Detroit Lions Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

What a difference a week makes. On Monday of last week, every Lions fan in the world was flying high coming off what seemed like a statement win over an NFC North rival. The Tuesday that followed showed the Lions power ranked as high as No. 2 by the NFL.com and USA Today. Life at the top was great. Then the Lions played Carolina. Enter the “SOL” chants from social media.

I’m not going to begin to try to understand this group of Lions fans. They’re doom and gloom to the bitter end. These aren’t your “same old Lions,” but they do still show certain tendencies that got them into trouble in 2016.

It’s for that reason that one has to wonder if this is just a flash-in-the-pan moment in the Lions season, or if the Lions are a team that just had a bad day against a good opponent.

In some ways I think it’s the latter. Now that we’ve had a few days to digest this game what you have to come away with is the same thing I ended What just Happened with on Sunday: This team refuses to die.

That’s probably something we’ve probably always known. This is, after all, the team that gained eight of their nine wins in 2017 by coming from behind. In reality, this team is probably a dumb rule and Kelvin Benjamin drop away from being 5-0. Is this just a bump in the road?

There are some indications that this is far more than just a bump in the road. First and foremost, Matthew Stafford has been sacked 18 times in 2017. 12 of those times came in the past two weeks. The Lions run game is ranked 26th in the league as well.

You can blame Greg Robinson for some of this. He is clearly having a lot of trouble at left tackle, but you also have to wonder if all the money the Lions invested into their offensive line and their run game was all a waste.

Because here we are going into Week 6, and I can’t see any major improvement coming in these spots. Getting Taylor Decker back will be huge. And it’s true the Lions won’t play top defenses like Carolina and Minnesota every week, but something has to give on this front.

One has to wonder if offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter’s moment in the sun was just that: A blissful moment in the sun that can no longer be replicated. The play-calling on offense certainly seems to point in that direction.

Through five weeks, an offense that has the highest paid quarterback in the league, a receiver that is one of the best in the league at picking up yards after the catch, a running back that led the league in receiving yards in 2015, a tight end taken in the top 10 and a rookie receiver that, while healthy, has shown flashes of high ability is ranked 29th in yardage. 29th.

Some of this stuff can be fixed. If Stafford is able to stay on his feet and not have to run for his life, as has in the past few weeks, we know he can sling it down field. The Lions can simply return to the uptempo offense they always seem to strive in. They can even work a small-ball approach with quick outs as opposed to slow-developing plays. They have to do something.

Because here we are going into Week 6. The Green Bay Packers are right back in their familiar position atop the NFC North despite everyone on the team not named Aaron Rodgers being hurt. The Vikings are right on Detroit’s tail, and teams like the Rams and the Eagles are looking like legit contenders in the conference and could be getting ready to lock up potential playoff spots.

I still think the Lions are good enough to win this division. Honestly, I believe the Lions can be good enough to get themselves a first-round bye in the playoffs this January, but they have to actually do it, and that requires this team to figure out who they’re going to be.

It all starts here in Week 6. The next three games are possibly the biggest games of the entire season. The Lions head to New Orleans on Sunday and then have two primetime games against Pittsburgh and Green Bay.

They can either take their lumps and lose to the good teams as many expect they will. Or they can finally overcome that which has plagued them for so long. They finally show that they are a team that is for real. They’re a team that is to be feared.

Who will this team be? That is a question you will soon know the unequivocal answer to.