“This is our year!” It seems like fans of the Detroit Lions find a reason to say that at the start of every season, at least ever since Calvin Johnson was drafted in 2007. I was in a fantasy football draft with some friends just last night, and one of the guys said exactly those words in the chat box: “This is our year.”
For some reason, Detroit fans believe this year’s team is destined to reach the postseason. I’m here to remind you that this is the NFL, not some cakewalk, and the Lions are going to be fighting an uphill battle just to be in the hunt for one of the six coveted playoff spots in the NFC.
Here are three reasons working against Detroit’s playoff chances:
1. The Green Bay Packers
The foremost reason that the odds aren’t in Detroit’s favor are the Green Bay Packers. I could even rephrase this to just read: Aaron Rodgers. He’s all Green Bay needs to be a perennial contender in the NFC North.
In the six seasons that Rodgers has been at the helm of the Pack, the team has posted a 61-34-1 record, won the division three years running and made five consecutive playoff appearances.
Rodgers is the reason behind this success — since 2009, he hasn’t logged a QB rating under 101.2. For comparison, Matthew Stafford has never had a season where his rating finished above 100.
The easiest way to get in the playoffs is to win your division. Since its inception in 2002, the Lions have never won the NFC North. You have to go all the way back to 1993 for the last time Detroit has won its division.
Green Bay is once again the popular pick to win the NFC North this season, and I don’t see any way they don’t outside of an injury to Rodgers.
Heck, even when he missed seven games with a broken collarbone last season (really it was eight, he threw two passes in the game where he was injured), the Packers still took the division with a pedestrian 8-7-1 finish. For the record, they were 6-2 in the games Rodgers played in full.
Yeah, the Packers aren’t going anywhere as long as Rodgers is under center.
If Green Bay takes the division again this year, that means Detroit has to contend for one of two wild-card spots in the NFC. With powerhouses San Francisco and Seattle in the NFC West, Chicago in the division, and the loaded NFC South with the likes of Carolina, New Orleans, and Atlanta, I don’t like Detroit’s chances to do so.
2. The cornerbacks
The most glaring weakness on Detroit’s roster are the cornerbacks, which seems to hold true just about every season and has for some time. The Lions haven’t had a Pro Bowl corner since Dre’ Bly in 2004.
Welcome to the NFL in 2014: A pass-happy league where passing and receiving records are broken seemingly every year. It’s where the receivers are bigger, faster, stronger and more athletic than ever before, where tight ends line up like receivers, and where hitting a quarterback results in a flag more often than not.
Not to mention the league’s current push to emphasize defensive holding and illegal contact. Flags flew at a ridiculous rate in the preseason, much to the chagrin of defensive backs, coaches and fans. Check out this stat:
According to ESPN, the number of penalties for illegal contact and def. holding nearly quintupled from 56 in 2013 preseason to 271 this year
— Tim Twentyman (@ttwentyman) September 2, 2014
All of this has culminated in an NFL where a pass-heavy system is all the rage.
Before 2008, there was one quarterback who topped 5,000 yards passing in a season: Dan Marino in 1984. Since then, there have been seven such occurrences. 16 quarterbacks —half of the league’s starters— attempted over 500 passes last season; and that number would have been higher if not for a couple of injuries.
Almost every team is passing the ball at an absurd rate in this day and age, which doesn’t bode well for a team where the corners are the weakest unit. When everybody is passing, it takes good defense to win championships, à la the Seattle Seahawks a season ago. It’s not a coincidence, they won because they had the best defensive backs.
Yes, Detroit makes up for their inferior corners with a loaded defensive line. But as last year proved, that doesn’t automatically translate to sacks, a category in which the Lions ranked 31st in 2013.
I don’t believe Detroit can find true success until they improve their passing defense.
3. The schedule
The Lions don’t have an easy schedule in 2014. Tough opponents like Carolina, Atlanta, New England and New Orleans await. The NFC North doesn’t do them any favors either, where they face the likes of Rodgers and Green Bay, Adrian Peterson with Minnesota, and the combination of Jay Cutler, Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery in Chicago two times each.
Everybody sees teams like Tampa Bay, both New York squads, Buffalo and Minnesota on the schedule and automatically chocks it up as a win. It’s never that easy! Calling any game an “easy” one in the NFL is ridiculous in my opinion.
A season ago, if you knew that Tampa Bay was playing an away game in Detroit with a 2-8 record, and had Mike Glennon as their starting quarterback, you would say that the Lions win that game no contest.
The lesson: Nothing is a given in the NFL.
Best case scenario, I see Detroit finishing 9-7, and I don’t think that’s going to be good enough to reach the playoffs in the loaded NFC. Time will tell, but I don’t see this season being “the year” for the Lions.