Detroit Lions: Five Biggest Concerns for Team's Playoff Hopes

Derek TislerContributor INovember 28, 2011

Detroit Lions: Five Biggest Concerns for Team's Playoff Hopes

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    The past few weeks of the season have shown that a playoff spot is never guaranteed. 

    The Detroit Lions started out the season 5-0 and looked to be one of the best teams in the NFL. Fast forward six games and the Lions are now struggling to earn a wild-card position. This is how fast things can change.

    The young and improving Detroit Lions have a huge disadvantage playing in arguably the toughest division in football—the NFC North. The Green Bay Packers, currently at 11-0, look destined to win the division and make a consecutive run at the super bowl.

    If this happens, the Detroit Lions will have to earn a wild-card spot if they want a chance to play in the NFL's biggest game. 

    The Thanksgiving game revealed a lot of problems and concerns for the Detroit Lions moving forward.

    Here are some of the biggest obstacles the Lions must overcome in order to find a spot in the playoffs for the first time in over a decade.

Injury Problems

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    Throughout the season, the Detroit Lions have faced many injury problems, the biggest being Jahvid Best's concussion in Week 6. The injury, which came just one week after Best's most productive game of the season, has caused the running back to sit on the sidelines in every game since. This week, the Lions officially put Best on injured reserve, ending his 2011 season. 

    Just when Detroit seemed to have a good substitute who would save the Lions' struggling rushing game, Kevin Smith was sidelined during the Thanksgiving game after suffering a high ankle sprain. The latest reports say that the injury might not have been as serious as originally thought, but Smith could still miss the Lions' next game against New Orleans.

    In addition to the injury to Smith on Thanksgiving Day, the Lions also had two huge losses on defense. 

    Cornerback Chris Houston and safety Louis Delmas were also forced to leave the game after knee injuries. Detroit's secondary became so weak that wide receiver Rashied Davis was forced to play cornerback during some plays in the fourth quarter against Green Bay. 

    It's uncertain right now how much time Houston and Delmas will miss, but there's a good chance one if not both of them will also miss the game this week and possibly more.

Matt Stafford

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    After starting out the year as one of the most explosive quarterbacks in the lead, Matt Stafford has shown a lot of weaknesses in the second half of the season.

    There's no doubt that Stafford is a talented quarterback who can make big plays for the Lions offense. However, his decision making lately has cost Detroit greatly.

    Over the past three weeks Stafford has thrown nine interceptions. In the first eight weeks, Stafford threw just four.

    The Detroit Lions offense has relied on the passing game all season long, especially with the injuries at running back. The Lions still have great playmaking receivers in Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson and Titus Young, but Stafford needs to do a much better job of utilizing them if the Lions want to continue in the playoff hunt. 

Strength of Schedule

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    After starting the season 5-0, the Detroit Lions have won just two of their past five games. More importantly, the Lions are 2-4 against opponents with a record over .500. 

    This is a large cause for concern because Detroit is hitting one of their toughest stretches of the season just as the team is most in need of a victory. The Lions have three big games against New Orleans (7-3), Oakland (7-4) and Green Bay (11-0).

    In between these games, Detroit has games against San Diego and Minnesota. Each of these two is very winnable but are still against teams who are capable of causing trouble for the Lions. 

    The Detroit Lions are still in a good place to get the NFC Wild Card but will certainly need a stronger performance to close out the season and make the playoffs for the first time since 1999. 

Ndamukong Suh

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    By now, I'm sure you have all heard about Ndamukong Suh and his incident during the Thanksgiving game. It's now almost certain that Suh will face a suspension of at least one game, possibly two or more. 

    If this happens, it will be a huge hit to the Detroit Lions defense. Suh was the star and the anchor of Detroit's best defensive unit and one of the best pass rushes in the league. At defensive tackle, he's the type of player who demands extra attention from the opposing offensive line.

    When he's not getting to the quarterback himself, Suh opens up opportunities for other players like Cliff Avril, Corey Williams and Kyle Vanden Bosch to make plays.

    With Suh gone, the other players on the defensive line will be given much more attention. Detroit will lose one of their strongest leaders and most dynamic playmakers in a time when he's most needed. 

Discipline Issues

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    Whether you agree with it or not, the identity of the "dirty" team is going to follow the Detroit Lions for the rest of the season. After the events that took place during the Thanksgiving game against Green Bay, things will only get worse.

    Referees will now be on the lookout for Lions players who are doing anything that might be considered unnecessary or illegal. This could mean more personal foul penalties called on the Detroit defense. These are the type of flags that give up huge yards and can make big plays obsolete. 

    In addition, Lions players will be more vulnerable for fines and suspensions in the future. The Detroit Lions will need to be on their best behavior from this point on and let their play do all the talking.