Every year, teams that had made the playoffs in the previous season often fall short of repeating. The NFL Live crew has been revealing their five 2011 playoff teams destined to fall victim to this curse, and the Detroit Lions ended up on the list.
Yes, that's right, the Detroit Lions were chosen by Mark Schlereth and Damien Woody as a team who, though they made the playoffs in 2011, will be watching this year's postseason on television.
Schlereth believes that the off field issues reflect the lack of discipline that, at times, shone through on the field last year. He feels as thought that will continue this season and they will be unable to overcome the penalties that will result. Schlereth also pointed to the team's lack of balance as a potential stumbling block as well.
Woody's concerns are about a defense which finished in the bottom third of the NFL last year, particularly in the secondary, which he feels has too many questions at the cornerback position. He's also concerned with the running backs, both of whom are coming off of injuries.
Of course, both former players are impressed with the off-season moves of the Chicago Bears, and rightfully so.
Do the rest of the arguments hold water? Let's break them down.
PENALTIES AND DISCIPLINE
If this isn't a concern for you, it should be. Schlereth is right—this is a team which played somewhat undisciplined in 2011, ending up one as one of the most penalized teams in the NFL. It's been a consistent problem the last few years.
It won't necessarily kill them, but it will make life harder than it needs to be—something we've talked about before. It puts that much more pressure on the offense to make up for it. Luckily, this is an offense which can do so.
It shouldn't have to though, and a little more disciplined play would help. Off the field is also a concern of Schlereth's and there again, he has a point. Maybe they'll settle down come this season, but thus far, they will be short Mikel Leshoure for two games, and potentially Nick Fairley and Aaron Berry for spans as well.
After a while, that could wear on the team, and if they have a rough patch, it's the sort of thing which can divide a locker room.
All that being said, I don't believe it will scuttle the Lions' playoff hopes. The players they will lose are more important than some Lions fans want to admit, but not so critical that their absence is insurmountable. And while the penalties are a problem, as I said a minute ago, this is an offense which can overcome them.
LACK OF BALANCE/THE RUN GAME
Both Schlereth and Woody took issue with the backfield, Woody with the injury history and Schlereth with the lack of a run game.
When Schlereth made his point about balance, my initial thought is: Didn't hurt the Packers the last few years. In fact, Green Bay was just a few notches better than the Lions, and two of their three running backs are coming off injury-filled seasons as well.
The New York Giants, as you may recall them, just won a Super Bowl with the 32nd ranked run game in the NFL.
So a balanced offense isn't exactly a necessity to win a championship.
As far as injuries go, I just pointed out that the Lions aren't alone in that concern. Add the Houston Texans and Pittsburgh Steelers to the list of playoff teams with injured or banged up running backs in 2011, while the New England Patriots are going with second year players.
In fact, the only two 2011 playoff teams whose running back was healthy in 2011 and hasn't left the team are the New Orleans Saints (though Mark Ingram is hurt and the team is a mess since the bounty Scandal) and the Atlanta Falcons, another team the NFL Live crew is calling for to miss the playoffs in 2012.
If you look further, there are tons of teams whose backfields are in flux, if not in outright chaos.
I don't believe that a lack of a running game would hurt the Lions and further, I believe that this backfield will be the most effective Lions backfield we've seen in a very long time.
Jahvid Best has concussion concerns, but Mikel Leshoure will lighten his carries, thereby allowing Best to stay fresher and healthier, which will lead to him being more effective.
While Leshoure is suspended for two weeks, he's a tough between-the-tackles runner who gives this offense a guy able to get the hard yards they struggled with in 2011.
So I have to disagree with the guys on this as well. This is a team which will be more balanced in 2012, and even when they aren't, clearly a lack of running game isn't an issue.
We've talked about this several times before—most recently this week—and the truth is that while there was a collapse towards the end of the season, overall, this defense was not as bad as they appeared.
As I said a moment ago, the Packers had the same issue, but where's the concern there?
But back to the Lions. Their biggest issue is, indeed, the secondary and who will play opposite Chris Houston at cornerback. Aaron Berry and Bill Bentley are both possibilities, and either one could step in and be effective. If the front seven can be disciplined and more effective, the secondary should see a similar improvement.
Is it an issue? Certainly. However, it's not quite as big an issue as the perception of it is.
THE CHICAGO BEARS
Here's one area I do agree with the NFL Live crew on, at least to an extent.
The Lions should be worried about the Bears. They should keep an eye on that rear view mirror because the Bears are coming for them. The Packers should also have the same concern.
That said, the Bears have one potential Achilles' heel which could make 2012 look a lot like 2011—left tackle.
The rest of the offensive line has issues, but when your biggest training camp battle is between a former seventh round draft pick and a former first rounder who struggled last time out at tackle and didn't look any better at guard, folks, that's a real concern.
Maybe Chris Williams recaptures some of that talent which made him a first round pick or maybe J'Marcus Webb takes a big step forward. It's a huge risk at one of the most vital positions on the line.
Not insurmountable. You can cover for it, but that means you're moving resources away from other areas that need them.
Let's say, for a moment, that the Bears' offensive line does jell.
I disagree with Woody that there's no way three playoff teams could come out of the NFC North.
The Lions were 10-6 last season. Let's assume the record stays the same. After all, the Lions didn't play Chicago after Cutler was hurt.
Meanwhile in order to make the playoffs, the Bears would have had to have three wins to jump ahead of the Falcons and Lions. Tying the Lions wouldn't help as the Lions had the tie breakers.***
It's not a stretch to think they would jump into the playoffs but it isn't as though the Lions got in on a 8-8 record.
So even last year, we could have seen three NFC North teams in the playoffs.
Looking at this year's crop, the New Orleans Saints look like a team which could slip and the NFL Live crew picked the Falcons as another team to miss.
There's ample room for the Lions, Packers and the Bears to all make it in this year as well.
While it's no certainty that the Lions will make the playoffs, the Lions have a very good chance of making the playoffs yet again.
They have their weaknesses to be sure, but none of those weaknesses are as fatal as they might appear at first glance.
***Props to reader Daniel for pointing out that the Giants won their division—the outcome to this remains the same unless the Bears win 11 games, since the Lions and Falcons both had tie breakers over the Bears so the point stands—but I read the conference standing page wrong at NFL.com so, the Giants would be in anyway.
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