Following the 24-13 victory over the Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football, the Detroit Lions looked unstoppable. They had just won their fifth game of 2011 and ninth consecutive regular season game overall.
Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson were emerging as early MVP candidates and the Lions' first playoff appearance since 1999 seemed certain. The only question was how far they would be able to go once there.
A lot has changed since that game. Over the past two weeks, the Detroit Lions were completely outplayed by San Francisco and Atlanta. Although the scores were close in the end, the game play of Detroit told a different story.
The Lions had great difficulty moving the ball on offense with a struggling Stafford and almost no rushing presence. The defense also was unable to slow down opposing offenses and make big plays when it mattered.
These recent struggles show a large concern for how the remaining portion of the Detroit Lions season will play out.
The first five games, which featured weak opponents with a combined record of 15-18, that the Lions played were no problem. Recently, however, Detroit has had to play two playoff-caliber teams with a combined record of 9-4.
Detroit's poor performances against San Francisco and Atlanta represent a problem going forward as the Lions are scheduled to play much tougher teams in the second half of the season.
These last nine opponents include New Orleans (5-2), San Diego (4-2), Oakland (4-3), Chicago (4-3) and Green Bay (7-0) twice. Each of these games will require a strong performance from the Lions.
It doesn't help that the Lions play in the NFC North, arguably the best division in football. If the season ended today, the NFC North would put three teams into the playoffs, Green Bay as the division champion and Detroit and Chicago as the wild-card teams.
Although the Detroit Lions are currently the front-runner for the wild-card slot in the NFC, they will not hold this position for long if their play continues to struggle.
In order to stay in a position to be playing football when January comes, Detroit needs to get back to their play from earlier in the season when they came out every single week with a desire to prove themselves.
We will find out more about Detroit when we find out the health statuses of Stafford and Jahvid Best who are essential weapons for the Lions' offense
Against a struggling Denver Broncos team, the Lions have the chance to rebuild some confidence before a tough stretch against very good teams. They have the talent to be a good football team. If they can revive the discipline and intensity shown in the beginning of the season, Detroit will soon become a great team.
Being a playoff contender requires consistency, something the Lions have struggled with throughout the entire history of their franchise. The good news is the season is still young and the Lions have plenty of time to show that they are ready to take the next step toward their first ever Super Bowl.