In roughly two month's time, when teams are gearing up for the start of the NFL playoffs, the Detroit Lions may look back on last Sunday's miracle win over the Dallas Cowboys as a turning point of sorts.
Down six points and with time waning, the Lions appeared well on their way to losing a second-straight home game in excruciating fashion. A promising 4-2 start was just seconds away from becoming a 4-4 disappointment, and a team that lost nine games by eight points or fewer a year ago looked primed to follow a similar path in 2013.
Instead, the Lions are now 5-3 and staring straight ahead at a second-half schedule that has "road to the playoffs" written all over it.
What a difference just one 50-second drive can have on an entire season.
Strikes of 17 and 23 yards to Calvin Johnson, a perfect throw from Matthew Stafford for 40 yards down the sideline to Kris Durham and a fake spike-quarterback sneak that won the game will be the plays to remember from the Lions' 2013 season. But only if Detroit can take advantage of a remaining schedule that probably couldn't be set up any better.
In fact, after improving to 5-3 last Sunday, the Lions probably don't have any excuses for not making the postseason for a second time in three years.
Over the final eight games, Detroit will play just three contests against the NFC North and zero against non-division teams with winning records. Judging strictly by wins and losses, the Lions' most difficult game will come on Thanksgiving, when Detroit welcomes the division-leading Green Bay Packers (5-2) to Ford Field.
|Detroit Lions Remaining 2013 Schedule|
|Week 10||at Chicago Bears||4-3|
|Week 11||at Pittsburgh Steelers||2-5|
|Week 12||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||0-7|
|Week 13||Green Bay Packers*||5-2|
|Week 14||at Philadelphia Eagles||3-5|
|Week 15||Baltimore Ravens||3-4|
|Week 16||New York Giants||2-6|
|week 17||at Minnesota Vikings||1-6|
|*Thanksgiving Day Game|
Overall, the second-half schedule features eight opponents who are a combined 20-38 this season. Take away the Packers from that list, and that record drops to 15-36.
The Lions should be favored in seven of their final eight games. Getting to 10 wins and securing a playoff spot would appear to be the minimum expectation for a club that, if they are able to beat Green Bay on Nov. 28, is certainly capable of winning the NFC North.
The best of scenarios could actually see the Lions push the 12-win mark, and a quick breakdown of the remaining schedule shows how this could happen.
Road games against the Pittsburgh Steelers (2-5), Chicago Bears (4-3) and Minnesota Vikings (1-6) looked daunting before this season. Now, the Lions should be plenty capable of winning at least two of those three contests.
The Steelers don't have the offensive firepower to take advantage of Detroit's biggest weakness (defense), the Bears will likely be without Jay Cutler and Lance Briggs and who knows whom the Vikings will be coached or quarterbacked by come Week 17. Even with a conservative guess of two wins and a loss against those three teams, the Lions would be up to nine wins.
Finding a 10th win shouldn't be overly difficult either, as the Philadelphia Eagles (3-5), without a real answer at quarterback, are nosediving, and the Baltimore Ravens (3-4) have been one of the more tame defending champions in recent seasons. Detroit will also be hosting the Ravens on Monday Night Football, which could provide the atmosphere for a playoff-clinching victory.
If the Lions can split with Philadelphia and Baltimore, Detroit would finish with 10 wins in this hypothetical scenario. Give the Lions a win over Green Bay and a clean sweep with Pittsburgh/Chicago/Minnesota or Philadelphia/Baltimore, and 12 wins is still a realistic possibility.
Recent history suggests that the Lions are sitting in a good spot after eight games.
Last season, six different teams started the season with a 5-3 record: New England, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Denver, Green Bay and Minnesota. Only the Steelers failed to make the postseason out of that group.
The five other teams took care of their second-half schedule and qualified for the big dance. Overall, the Patriots, Colts, Broncos, Packers and Vikings went a combined 32-8 after finishing the first half 25-15. A year later, the Lions have an opportunity to follow in their footsteps.
No game in the NFL is a sure thing, and it would only take one or two hiccups for the Lions to suddenly fall out of the playoff race. But a season-defining win ahead of the bye and a second-half schedule that provides ample opportunity for wins have laid out a fairly straightforward road to the postseason for this squad.
If the Lions can take care of business down the stretch, there's no reason why postseason football shouldn't be played in Detroit this season.