The Detroit Lions went 10-6 last season, making the playoffs for the first time since 1999. Many expected them to become perennial contenders, but that has not happened.
The Lions sit 1-3 after their bye week. On Sunday, they'll take on the Philadelphia Eagles in what has become a must-win for Detroit.
The Lions are last in the suddenly hyper-competitive NFC North. The Vikings and Bears are tied at the top with a 4-1 record, while the Packers, surprisingly, are 2-3 (although, they should be 3-2 after the officiating debacle in Seattle). However, most observers expect Green Bay to rebound.
So the Lions cannot afford to fall to 1-4. That might be too much of a deficit to make up.
The Lions are a bit of an enigma. They have the 2nd-ranked pass offense in the league, averaging 322 yards per game. They also have the 10th-ranked pass defense and the 13th-ranked run defense.
All good numbers.
Yet they're 1-3. They lost a close game in overtime to Tennessee—a game they should've won. And they lost at home to the upstart Vikings—a game where their specials teams failed them.
Special teams has been a problem. It gave up two return scores to Minnesota and a return score to Tennessee. That has to be fixed, and it will be interesting to see if the team can contain DeSean Jackson.
More importantly, the Lions need to get the run game. They have the 24th-ranked run offense in the league, rushing for 90.3 yards per game. It'll be tough against a Eagles defense that gives up 97.8 rushing yards per game.
Lions wide receiver Nate Burleson thinks that they need to play with more intensity (via Chicago Tribune):
We need to play with that violent passion that we had last year and the year before, so this is good for us. It's early enough in the season where I could say that. If this was December, I would be a little bit more frustrated.
The Lions will need to ratchet up the intensity against a solid team like the Eagles. If they don't, their season could be over just as it's starting.
It will be tough to keep Matthew Stafford upright against a tough Eagles defensive line. Stafford was sacked five times against the Vikings.
All signs point against the Lions. They'll need to upgrade their poor running game against a stout run defense. They'll need to keep Stafford upright against a good defensive line. And they'll need to stop one of the most electric punt returners in football.
A loss could tame the Lions. And it looks like that just might happen.