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Lions Roundtable: Will the Lions be positioned for the playoffs after Week 9?

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The first half of Detroit’s schedule looks to be a doozy. Will the Lions still be playoff hopefuls at the midway point?

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The roundtable is back and ready to discuss some more Lions-centric topics. If you’re unfamiliar with how we do this thing here, or would like to check out recent topics we’ve had it out over, check the rhime links below:

This week, we take a step back and to put forth our best guess as to what position the Lions will be in come November:

Will the Lions be in the playoff hunt midway into their schedule?

Ryan: It’s a pretty weighty question to tackle at this point in the offseason, but let’s not make it any more difficult than need be. Looking at that slate of games in the Lions have in the first half of 2017, I think it’s really tough to make a case they’ll be any better than .500 through eight games.

The first four games alone: Cardinals, Giants on the road, Falcons, and the Vikings in Minnesota; those are four teams that all certainly view themselves as playoff caliber teams, if not contenders for their respective divisions. Those four teams combined to have a record of 37-26-1 in 2016.

Jeremy: Well they better be at least 4-4 by the end of Week 9 or they’re in serious trouble. Check out this graphic from FiveThirtyEight.com on playoff data from 1990-2013:

Even if the Lions get out of that gauntlet at 4-4, there’s only a 33 percent chance they make the playoffs based on NFL history. If they come out with even just one more loss, their odds drop all the way down to 7 percent. That’s not making me feel too optimistic about Detroit’s postseason chances in 2017.

Ryan: Those numbers are telling and you’re not just being pessimistic at this point.

Jeremy, you call it a “gauntlet.” Why do you find the first half of their schedule that difficult? Does it have to do with the teams they’re playing?

Jeremy: It’s a gauntlet in every sense of the word. Seven of their eight games are against teams that have made the playoffs at least once in the past two years. Seven of their opponents are in-conference, meaning they’re crucial for future tiebreakers. And their only two divisional games in this stretch are both on the road. Throw in two “Monday Night Football” games on the road (Giants, Packers), and this is about as challenging of a first half as the Lions have had in recent memory.

All that being said, if the Lions can somehow get to 4-4, I think their chances are much better than 33 percent to make the playoffs.

Andrew Kato: I’m agree with Jeremy, that is a tough first half, and what Detroit shows in those big games both of you pointed out will go a long way in establishing what fans ought to hope for late in the year. How they perform in those particular games might even be more important than the basic win-loss record; it sets the tone for the season.

There are in fact four games I expect them to win in that first half. What I’m really looking for, though, is a win against one of the powers (read: Giants, Steelers, Falcons, Packers). That’s the next step I would love to see to demonstrate the Lions are truly contending rather simply trying to get into the postseason: can they beat the teams they should expect to meet in January?

Ryan: If you’re looking for a silver lining to this segment of the schedule, it’s the break they get in Week 7 and the balance of home and road contests—four at Ford Field, four games away through those first eight games.

If you say the silver lining has anything to do with them playing the Browns in Week 10...

Jeremy: I mean, the Lions have two quarterbacks that are better than all four of the Browns quarterbacks, and no, that doesn’t include Brad Kaaya.

Ryan: I already bought those mozzarella sticks.

Kyle Yost: Quarterback jokes are well and good, but they touch on a big issue for the Lions which is depth. We have already seen one starter go down before the season even started, and the roster is not structured in a way to handle too many more. Just one more injury to a key player could make the first half of the year miserable for the Lions.

Ryan: But even though this question seems focused on those first eight games, it’s just as important to consider the second half of the Lions schedule when it comes to them being in a position to make the playoffs. While it’s difficult to project things like injuries, if the Lions are sitting at 4-4, how many of you think the Lions are in a more favorable position than a 33 percent chance to make the playoffs?

Andrew: I would go back to the “big game” stuff above. It depends who the four teams the Lions beat were. If we are talking about 4-4 with wins against the Falcons at home and Packers on the road but perhaps a bonehead loss to the Saints on the road, then yes I am optimistic. If it is 4-4 with bad losses to all the power teams and squeaker wins against teams they were expected to beat, that’s a whole different scenario.

Consider that in the second half the team is likely to get Taylor Decker back from injury and all three division games from Thanksgiving onward are at Ford Field. Remember how hype the NFC North title chase was at the start of December in 2016? This is likely going to be the same way, and I’m so looking forward to it.

Alex Reno: I could sit here and say that if the Lions managed to come out with a 4-4 record through eight games, that I believe there is a greater than 33 percent chance they make the playoffs, but really there are so many variables in play. Remember when the Lions were 6-3 and on top of the NFC North in 2013, with the easiest remaining schedule heading into a favorable matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers? Well guess what? They got smoked in Pittsburgh and finished the season at 7-9.

If memory serves me right, the Lions were favored to win in nearly all of their remaining matchups, but managed to run into a few teams who just happened to get hot at the right time, while the Lions struggled with their own demons and couldn’t close out a game to save their lives.

Jeremy: I was perfectly fine cramming that memory down deep in my subconscious. Thanks, Reno.

But you bring up a good point about strength of schedule. Any of these daunting matchups could look a lot different with a key injury or a surprise down year (see: 2016 Panthers).

But to finally answer the original question, I think Detroit finishes their first eight games 3-5. That doesn’t necessarily put them out of the playoff race, but it puts them in a hole. If I had to guess, it’s a hole they won’t be able to completely dig themselves out of.

Alex: After signing myself up to rank the entire Detroit Lions roster, I’m not feeling very confident with how thin we are at nearly every position. Still, all this team needs to do is not be historically awful defensively like they were last year and they’re likely to be an improved football team. I’m thinking 4-4 is doable after eight games, but they’d have to surprise us all and probably win a game that no one expected them to win. After that, it gets tougher to project, but if I had to give a straight answer, I think the Lions will be on the outside looking in after Week 9, but then we see the Cardiac Cats scrape on by and barely make the playoffs at 9-7.

Andrew: Yes, the Lions will be “in the hunt” as Ryan asked at the top. They will not necessarily be a lock for the playoffs or anything, but ought to at least be in the conversation even if the record stands at 3-5. Anyone who thinks the Lions will be 6-2 and in command needs to put the pitcher down, though. Alex’s take right above mine is a very good one, and I endorse it.

Kyle: I disagree. At midseason the Lions will only be in the hunt using the most liberal of terms. Sure, they will be in the playoff picture with about 10 other NFC teams, but seeing them in a position to truly like their odds seems unreasonable. Even a .500 record after eight games looks optimistic, and the Lions will need to carry over their late-game magic from last season to even sneak their way into the playoff conversation.

Jeremy: You’ll have to forgive Kyle. He’s still bumming about the way the Detroit Tigers season has played out.

Ryan: So, to recap, while the Lions are the team that seem to have the most promise of any of the four major professional sports teams in downtown Detroit come late-2017, they’re still going to be on the outside looking in at a chance to make the playoffs come November.

We’re a fun bunch, guys.

Poll

Will the Lions still be in the playoff hunt after their first eight games?

This poll is closed

  • 80%
    Yes
    (473 votes)
  • 19%
    No
    (114 votes)
587 votes total Vote Now