2011 NFL Preview: Five Keys to the Playoffs for the Detroit Lions

Eli Nachmany@EliNachmanyCorrespondent IIIMay 22, 2011

2011 NFL Preview: Five Keys to the Playoffs for the Detroit Lions

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    The Lions have, for long, been the laughingstock of the NFL.

    We all remember the comedic 0-16 Lions, led by Dan Orlovsky's run into the back of the end zone; however, times have changed.

    The Lions, now, are legitimate playoff contenders with a shot to challenge teams like the Bears and, dare I say it, the Packers for the division title or a wild card spot.

    That said, here are the five keys to the playoffs for the 2011 Detroit Lions.

Keep Matthew Stafford Healthy

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    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    The picture on the left shows Matthew Stafford, on the sidelines, in street clothes.

    This is a sight that could spell another losing record for the Lions in 2011, and for the team to be competitive in the upcoming year, Stafford needs to be a contributor.

    The quarterback has a rare arm, able to make jaw-dropping throws on frequent occasions, and holds a key to a Detroit playoff appearance.

    Stafford could truly unlock the immense offensive potential that Detroit has, but needs to be on the field to do so.

Finish in the Middle of the Pack in Pass Defense

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    The Lions were expected to select a cornerback in this year's NFL Draft, yet the team failed to capitalize on Prince Amukamara's availability with the 13th pick, instead opting for talented defensive lineman Nick Fairley.

    Detroit has a slightly below average secondary, made better by the presence of Louis Delmas; however, the team must perform respectably here to garner a playoff appearance.

    Not being able to afford mediocre secondary play this year, the Lions will need to finish in the middle of the pack, at least, at pass defense.

Titus Young and Mikel Leshoure Need to Contribute...Immediately

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    Martin Mayhew didn't bring in Titus Young and Mikel Leshoure to sit on the bench and learn—these players are expected to play big roles immediately.

    Young and Leshoure add new dimensions to the Lions offense, being able to take the top off of the defense on vertical patterns or run efficiently between the tackles, respectively.

    The two second-round draftees each have special qualities that will help the Lions be more dynamic and explosive in the upcoming year.

    The rookies, however, need to perform right away for Detroit to win.

Last Year's Top Rookies Need to Continue to Improve

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    Scott Halleran/Getty Images

    Ndamukong Suh, from day one, became one of the league's top defensive tackles, while Jahvid Best had his moments as a lethal third-down back.

    With Leshoure's arrival, Best can better settle into his role on the team and be a true factor in the pass game (especially on third down).

    Suh, however, must continue to get better—the Nebraska product is still young and can be even better if he works hard enough.

    If the Lions get good contributions from their key sophomores, this could be a special team.

The Linebacking Corps Need to Pull Their Own Weight

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    The picture should say it all, but if it doesn't, let me explain the linebackers on the Lions to you.

    With a scarily-dominant defensive line in front of them, the Lions linebackers got too comfortable in 2010, which needs to change in the upcoming year.

    A front seven where all of the players are talented and dedicated would do wonders for the Lions secondary problems.

    The Lions need to get solid production from their linebackers, which will help them in their pursuit of a playoff berth.