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Discussion: Are the Detroit Lions contenders or pretenders?

After a brutal loss to the Chicago Bears, it’s time to ask: are the Detroit Lions for real or a mirage?

NFL: Detroit Lions at Chicago Bears Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Lions are in need of a wake-up call.

The Lions’ loss to the Chicago Bears in Week 14 still has them sitting with a solid 9-4 record, but the panic is setting in. For as dominant as the team looked early on, issues are arising lately that spark fear for a Lions division crown and playoff berth.

Losing to the then four-win Bears has caused the term “fraud” to be thrown around. The early-season hype that came from a rejuvenated Lions team has settled, and some believe those performances were just mirages. It is not hard to see why, given that the Lions once-electric offense has fallen flat of late, while its defense still struggles to avoid costly mistakes.

Are the Lions really on the ropes with the playoffs approaching, or is this just a good team in a bad slump?

Today’s Question of the Day is:

Are the Detroit Lions contenders or pretenders?

My answer: I think the Lions are contenders.

The difference between a contender and a pretender is based on expectations. Is this team living up to their record? Are they a better or worse team than the surface-level numbers indicate? To me, the Lions are a contender because they have been underachieving.

Saying that the Lions are underachieving is somewhat bold given Detroit’s track record, coming off 3-13-1 and 9-8 seasons under head coach Dan Campbell. Being 9-4 after those seasons is, on paper, a solid improvement for the team—you would probably call that overachieving. Yet, I believe the Lions have the ability to be a far better team than they have shown of late.

We have seen the Lions offense light up their opponents, such as against the Los Angeles Chargers and Carolina Panthers. I do not believe those performances are byproducts of a weak opponent or stat-padding. This Lions offense can go toe-to-toe against other top-tier offenses, it is more a matter of consistency. Especially, the self-inflicted mistakes. The untimely turnovers and play calls are not this team’s true identity. The Lions were outclassed and poorly prepared for the Baltimore Ravens in Week 7, but they have had realistic opportunities in every other loss. The Lions are a coin toss away from beating the Seattle Seahawks in overtime in Week 2. If Jared Goff has one fewer turnover, the Green Bay Packers game in Week 12 is a lot closer from the onset and the Lions are not playing catch-up all game. If the officials had made the correct intentional grounding call or Aidan Hutchinson had not jumped offside and drew a free play, the Lions might not have spiraled into a loss against the Bears on Sunday.

Sure, you can make the same argument for some of their wins (multiple Chiefs dropping passes in Week 1, a miracle comeback against the Bears in Week 11, possessing the ball last in a shootout against the Chargers in Week 10). Yet those wins feel like the resilient Lions I believe they truly are. The Lions kicked off the season by defeating the defending champion Chiefs. Despite an overall poor game, they still rallied to beat the Bears. For as poor as the defense was against the Chargers, the offense was playing at such a level that you couldn’t help but be excited.

The elephant in the room is the defense, but the reality of it is not as dire as it might appear. If it weren’t for the offense self-destructing so frequently in these previous four games, you could say that it has been a decent stretch for the defense. When the offense is committing as many errors as they have, it sets up opponents with short fields—far from ideal for any defense. The Lions defense is far from elite, but they deserve a better fate. If the offense plays to its potential, this recent stretch of games doesn’t look as bad.

When the Lions get out of their own way, I think they are a good football team. Good football teams lose games, and they can lose games badly. In Week 13, the Philadelphia Eagles were stomped by the San Francisco 49ers. Those same 49ers lost three games in a row this season. The Dallas Cowboys lost to the now 3-10 Arizona Cardinals. Are the Lions the same caliber of team as the Cowboys, Eagles, or 49ers in the NFC? I do not believe so, but I still believe they are worthy of being called contenders. The offense can still be elite, and the defense, for all of its faults, has quietly been improving. All that is missing is both units showing up at the same time—easier said than done, but certainly realistic.

Who are the real Detroit Lions? Are they the team that shined en route to an 8-2 record, or have these recent losses showcased the true Lions? Let us know in the comments.

Poll

Are the Detroit Lions contenders or pretenders?

This poll is closed

  • 29%
    Contenders
    (583 votes)
  • 70%
    Pretenders
    (1386 votes)
1969 votes total Vote Now

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After winning their first NFC North title in 30 years, the Lions have unfinished business this offseason. Stay updated with Jeremy Reisman through Pride of Detroit Direct, our newsletter offering up exclusive analysis. Sign up with NFCNORTH30 to get 30% off after your free trial.