Here are 10 things I think I know heading into the bye week:
1. I think the Lions need to get healthy, fast. The Lions figuratively limped into the playoffs last year—losing their final three games—and they’re literally limping into the bye week this season. 12 players sat out of practice on Tuesday, including Matthew Stafford, Golden Tate, and Glover Quin. In total, there were eight starters on the list. The bye week comes at a good time for the Lions as they try to heal up over the next two weeks.
2. I think Marvin Jones’ struggles will continue unless he can beat press man coverage. Admittedly, Jones has looked better over the last two weeks (12 receptions, 150 yards, 1 TD), but he still struggles to separate from man coverage and defenses know it. With Golden Tate out for an unknown amount of time, Jones needs to become the No. 1 receiver on a team full of No. 2s.
3. I think Aaron Rodger’s broken collarbone opens the door wide open for the Lions to win the NFC North. According to Football Outsiders, the Packers’ playoff odds dropped 41.6 percent after losing Rodgers, leaving them with only a 28 percent chance of making the playoffs. The Lions are currently projected to have a 47 percent chance to make the playoffs and a 33.4 percent chance of winning the division. It’s clear the Lions now have the best quarterback in the division, and they need to capitalize on it.
4. I think the Lions were never really a top 5 team. At one point, the Lions were ranked as the second best team in the NFL by USA Today and NFL.com. Man, a lot changes in a month. Right now the Lions rank 13th by USA Today and 16th by NFL.com.
5. I think the Lions are truly never out of a game. Look, I thought the Lions should have taken Matthew Stafford out of the Week 6 matchup against the Saints (an argument I’d still make today), but Stafford, Jim Caldwell, and the rest of the Lions all made us at least question that after cutting a 35-point deficit to just seven points.
Anytime you turn the ball over five times your chances of winning are slim. Via Pro Football Reference, the Lions never had a good probability of winning against the Saints.
6. I think Jim Bob Cooter is officially on the hot seat. The Lions have an idea of who they want to be, but the problem is they don’t have the personnel to run it. They want to be up-tempo, but receivers can’t get open. They want to incorporate the run, but they’re too predictable. And they want to push the ball downfield, but the offensive line can’t hold up. Cooter needs to take the bye week to figure out what’s working and throw out the rest.
7. I think the Lions schedule gets a lot easier over the next month. With Rodgers going out for the foreseeable future, the NFC North is wide open. The Vikings and Packers are currently a game up on the Lions, but the Lions have already beaten the Vikings this year. Over the next four games the Lions play two teams above .500 (Steelers and Packers) and two teams below .500 (Browns and Bears). Jeremy Reisman crunched the numbers and over the next 10 games the Lions opponents have an overall record of 27-31.
8. I think this is the weirdest NFL season I can remember. Through six weeks there are no true front runners. And with several franchise players out for the year, the playoff odds are the most wide open in years. There are going to be some strange playoff teams this year. Will the Lions be one of them?
9. I think if the offensive line doesn’t improve the Lions could end up last in the division. This is simple to me. If the line doesn’t improve, this team is going nowhere. Stafford has taken 17 sacks in the last three weeks after only taking six sacks in the first three weeks. The good news is that their is some hope on the horizon. Taylor Decker is getting closer to coming back and T.J. Lang should be able to come back after the bye. That’s the optimistic side. If the Lions have to play any more games with Emmett Cleary and Brian Mihalik, they could easily struggle to win five more games the rest of the season.
10. I think if the Lions don’t win the NFC North with an Aaron Rodgers-less Packers, Jim Caldwell should be gone. I like Jim Caldwell and I know he just got an extension this offseason, but if the Lions can’t take hold of this division this year, when will they? They have a top 10 defense, the best quarterback in the division and a decent schedule going forward. If the Lions can’t win the division this year under Caldwell, I have little faith that they ever will.