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Lions roundtable: Will the Detroit Lions make the playoffs?

It’s the question that’s on everyone’s mind at the halfway point, so let’s discuss it.

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If you’re unfamiliar with our roundtable or how it works, check out some of our (relatively) recent discussions:

Detroit picked up a huge victory over a division rival on “Monday Night Football” to push them back to an even 4-4 on the season. As far as Lions fans are concerned, things are back on the up-and-up as they took to Twitter to discuss the road ahead for Detroit, and its perceived lack of difficulty.

Pro-tip: The NFL is a minefield, so tread carefully.

The Lions roundtable has made its triumphant return to the internet, so let’s get into this weeks topic:

Will the Detroit Lions make the playoffs?

Ryan: It’s officially the halfway point for the Detroit Lions and there’s one question on everyone’s mind: Does Detroit even stand a chance when faced with such an insurmountable task like the Cleveland Browns next Sunday?

Andrew: Cleveland is indeed a dangerous foe. Pass protection will be tough against a force like Myles Garrett, who will likely play now that he’s back at practice. Protection was better against Green Bay, but Matthew Stafford has been one of the most sacked quarterbacks in the league this year. I think the Lions will find a way to establish the run and keep the winning momentum rolling.

As others have already pointed out, the Lions have a good chance in every one of their remaining games. The early-season road victory in Minnesota proved that even Thanksgiving day against the current division leader is a winnable game. I like the Lions’ chances of winning the NFC North and making the playoffs very much.

Ryan: We sort of broached this topic in an earlier roundtable, and many of us, including myself, thought it would be an optimistic prognostication for the Lions to be 4-4 at the midway point, but here we are.

Jeremy: If the Lions play like they have in the past two weeks, they will absolutely make the playoffs. The offense has played at a very high level (against one really good defense and one really bad one) and the defense has maintained its top-10 status.

The problem is we can’t forget about the previous few weeks. Sure the Lions’ three-game losing streak came against some of the best teams in the league (Steelers: 6-2, Panthers: 6-3, and Saints: 6-2), but the first two of those games were pretty poor performances.

Due to Detroit’s mini-collapse, the Lions have to play extremely clean football for two straight months. I’m just not sure they can play consistently enough to finish the season without at least two letdown games—even with that extremely favorable schedule.

Andrew: Jeremy hits on a point that I said would be my yardstick for the first half of the season. Could the Lions beat the tough teams? While the Giants and Packers turned out to be hot messes, the rest of the results actually look pretty respectable. The Lions have only lost to the Saints (NFC South leader), Panthers (half a game back in the NFC South), Steelers (AFC North leader), and Falcons (defending NFC champions).

Ryan: I don’t know exactly how to quantify this, but I can’t continue to understate how important it is for Detroit to get Taylor Decker back out onto the field. It’s no secret the Lions have struggled to protect Matthew Stafford this season—he’s been sacked 26 times through eight games—and when Detroit faces a defense that can get after the passer, they’ve struggled, and their record proves that.

Detroit’s four losses have come at the hands of some of the best pass rushes in the NFL. Aside from Atlanta, who ranks 17th in sack rate percentage, Carolina (2nd), New Orleans (9th), and Pittsburgh (3rd) are all among the top ten in terms of being able to bring down the quarterback according to Pro Football Reference.

Here’s a breakdown of the Lions final eight opponents and how they stack up in terms of sack rate percentage:

Cleveland - 19th
Chicago - 7th
Minnesota - 8th
Baltimore - 13th
Tampa Bay - 32nd
Cincinnati - 11th
Green Bay - 27th

Certainly there’s more to Detroit this season than their offense, which has been varying degrees of consistent as Jeremy pointed out, but a healthy Decker may make a world of difference for the Lions down the stretch.

Kyle: One thing to keep in mind when evaluating a single team in a vacuum is that every other NFL squad has experienced similar highs and lows. While the Lions may be a returning player like Decker away from seeing a big boost, they certainly are not alone. So while the arrow may be trending up for Detroit, that same logic can be applied to other contenders as well.

Ryan: Let’s change gears here for a moment and add a wrinkle to the original question: Will the Lions be able to make the playoffs by any other way than winning the NFC North?

Jeremy: The Lions are technically just a game behind the Cowboys for the final Wild Card spot, but with losses to contenders like the Falcons, Panthers and Saints, it’s hard for me to imagine a scenario in which a 10-6 Lions team earns one of those two final playoff spots. There are currently eight NFC teams between 5-3 and 3-5. That’s a ton of competition.

Detroit, in my opinion, would have to go 11-5 to win a Wild Card entry, and I would hope that’s enough to win the NFC North.

Andrew: No. (Copy-pasta Jeremy’s answer here)

Ryan: I’m giving the people what they came here for, and that’s a game-by-game breakdown of how the second half of the Lions season will shake out—and all before Week 10 starts, too*:

Week 10 vs. Cleveland - W
Week 11 at Chicago - W
Week 12 vs. Minnesota - L
Week 13 at Baltimore - W
Week 14 at Tampa Bay - W
Week 15 vs. Chicago - W
Week 16 at Cincinnati - W
Week 17 vs. Green Bay - W

Should the Lions finish 11-5, it’s going to take some sort of collapse from the other NFC teams that are currently better positioned for a Wild Card spot: Dallas, Atlanta, Washington, Carolina, and Seattle to name the top contenders.

*Predictions subject to change

Andrew: The only prediction I would flip there is that the Lions win on Thanksgiving and somehow lose the following week at Baltimore to “elite” Joe Flacco.

Jeremy: I’m too much of a coward to make game-by-game predictions, but if I had to make a final record guess, it’d be 10-6. That gives them—according to my completely non-mathematical calculations—about a 50/50 shot to make the playoffs. I think they just miss out.

Kyle: I am thinking along the same lines as everyone else, but it is important to recognize that the Lions often find a way to defy logic. Fourth-quarter comebacks and unlikely victories and not a predictable stat, but counting this team out is always a risk. Every other competitor has flaws and most have more difficult schedules down the stretch.

Will the Lions make the playoffs? Probably not. But would it really surprise anyone if they somehow found a way?


Will the Detroit Lions make the playoffs?

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