NFL Playoff Predictions: Detroit Lions Are in Way over Their Heads

Bradlee Ross@rossbeCorrespondent IIJanuary 2, 2012

GREEN BAY, WI - JANUARY 01: Calvin Johnson #81 of the Detroit Lions breaks away from Tramon Williams #38 of the Green Bay Packers after catching a pass at Lambeau Field on January 1, 2012 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Packers defeated the Lions 45-41. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Detroit Lions are in the playoffs and in way over their heads. They’re not ready for this big of a stage, and it will show.

The Lions have finally made the playoffs for the first time since 1999. Congratulations to them, but the fact is that they are not ready for the playoffs. This team is a talented one, but lacks the discipline and experience necessary to have success in the playoffs.


Experience necessary

The last six Super Bowl champions have all been veteran-laden teams. The New England Patriots, Indianapolis Colts, Pittsburgh Steelers, New Orleans Saints and Green Bay Packers were all teams that had very solid veteran leadership.

Tell me where that experienced leadership is on this team.

The offense is young. The quarterback is a young guy (23 years old) who hasn’t played a full NFL season ever.  Calvin Johnson could considered a veteran at the wide receiver position, but he doesn’t seem to be much of a leader. He’s a great player, but he doesn’t seem like the type who leads a team.

The defense is better, but still not good enough. The biggest leader is probably Ndamukong Suh, a second-year guy who missed two crucial games during their playoff run because he tried to stomp an opponent. No one else on the defense is leadership material. Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril are both very talented players on that Lions’ defensive front, but neither is the kind of fiery guy that can lead like Suh potentially could.

Suh will be that guy later on if he continues to grow as a player and gain some maturity. But he isn’t there yet.

This problem isn’t just a player thing. Lions head coach Jim Schwartz has never coached a single playoff game. Right off the bat, he’s going up against a guy in the New Orleans Saints’ Sean Payton, who has won a Super Bowl and been to the playoffs multiple times.

Not a good omen for this team at all.


Major deficiencies

Matt Flynn is probably the most respected backup quarterback in the NFL, but on Sunday against Detroit, he looked like Aaron Rodgers.

Detroit had more to play for in that game than the Green Bay Packers and still gave up 480 passing yards and six touchdowns to Flynn. That defense isn’t vaunted and won’t stop anybody in the playoffs. Green Bay’s beat-up offensive line held off the pass rush, which also isn’t a good sign for Detroit going forward.

In fact, the Lions have to play Drew Brees in the first round of the playoffs. If Matt Flynn could torch them, just imagine what Brees will do to them.

One big key in the playoffs is running the ball—that and playing defense are the biggest ways to win. Detroit ranks just 26th in rush defense in the NFL, giving up more than 130 yards per game. Suh and company are usually pretty good pass-rushers. He, Vanden Bosch and Avril have 22 sacks combined this season, but they can’t stop a good rushing game, which is what they’ll face if they can move further into the postseason (big if).

The Lions also lack the strong rushing game that is needed to control the clock in tight playoff games. Their leading rusher this season was Jahvid Best, who ran for just 390 yards this season. Kevin Smith and Maurice Morris were also guys who can the ball quite a bit and both gained above the 300-yard mark.

That just isn’t good enough. I know the Lions have a very good passing attack, but with Stafford at quarterback, it isn’t good enough yet to make up for a deficient running game. Guys like Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers are good enough to form a running game out of their short throws.

Younger guys aren’t yet. One big reason for Alex Smith’s success this year has been the fact the San Francisco 49ers haven’t asked him to do that. They have a strong running game with Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter that carries the load and puts Smith in a position to make good plays.

Stafford doesn’t have that, but he needs it.

This team just isn’t ready for the playoffs. It doesn’t have the necessary experience or the necessary abilities to win in the second season.

This will help the Lions build those things, though, which should be encouraging to fans. But it won’t be a Super Bowl year, and it probably won’t even be a second-round year. This team is just in too far over its head.