Assessing Detroit Lions' Chances at Making Late Playoff Push

Brandon Alisoglu@@BrandonAlisogluCorrespondent INovember 28, 2015

Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) and wide receiver Calvin Johnson (81) celebrate their touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles during an NFL football game at Ford Field in Detroit, Thursday, Nov. 26, 2015. (AP Photo/Rick Osentoski)
Rick Osentoski/Associated Press

If you stand for nothing, you'll believe anything.

Like the Detroit Lions having a shot at the NFL playoffs.

If Atlanta drops its fourth straight today (to MIN), Lions will be *two* games out of a playoff spot. #OnlyTheLions can torture us this way.

— Ryan Schuiling (@RyanSchuiling) November 26, 2015

Normally, any conversation of a 1-7 team earning a postseason invite would be incredibly foolish, but these last three weeks have changed the timbre of that conversation. Slightly.

It isn't so much the high-pitched squealing of an infant. Three wins—including Thanksgiving's 45-14 romp over the Philadelphia Eagles—have added some much-needed bass, bringing about a musical melody that has the makings of a hit if a few dozen things go Motown's way.

The first matter of business is simple: Is this team good enough?

After this game, the Lions will be tied for the fifth longest winning streak in the NFL. Yes, those Lions.

— Kyle Meinke (@kmeinke) November 26, 2015

It's fine to discuss the other Wild Card hopefuls—we will—but none of them will matter if Detroit doesn't handle its own business and rip off an eight-game winning streak.

That's an incredible task for any team to handle. Winning the Super Bowl only requires a team to notch four straight victories at the most. The Lions have to double that mark, and they don't get the benefit of playing an AFC South or NFC East team.

Rick Osentoski/Associated Press

As a fantasy football-driven society, the focus will be on the offense, and somewhat rightfully so. Had the Lions found a way to generate just one more score against the Seattle Seahawks or even the Denver Broncos to an extent, they would have full control of their own destiny.

That side of the ball has improved greatly under new offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter. He's using the strengths of players, taking advantage of his team's prior tendencies to set up defenses and doing a better job in the red zone.

Detroit has also stopped coughing the ball up with alarming frequency, having committed just a single turnover in the last three games.

Asked to isolate one thing the Lions have done most differently during a three-game winning streak, Caldwell said: Chopped down on the TOs.

— Lynn G. Henning (@Lynn_Henning) November 27, 2015

But the defense has been the driving force behind this three-game winning streak. And the main reason for its success has been the ability to make teams one-dimensional by shutting down the ground game. 

Detroit's Defensive Dominance
OpponentRush Yds.SacksPoints
Weeks 1-8133.75 ypg2030.6 ppg
Green Bay47316
Pro Football Reference

That's allowed defensive coordinator Teryl Austin to turn on the pressure in 3rd-and-long situations while allowing his young cornerbacks to play with aggression and physicality. That has put Quandre Diggs and Nevin Lawson at ease and led to solid performances.

So yes, the Lions have the talent—we knew that months ago—and it's now being utilized properly. This team is good enough to roar when given the chance.

But will that chance come in the postseason?

As mentioned at the top, the Atlanta Falcons currently hold the last wild-card spot at 6-4, but they have lost three straight and looked terrible doing it. It's possible they're out of the race quickly with a visit from the Minnesota Vikings this weekend followed by a three-game road trip.

The Falcons also have to play the Carolina Panthers twice. That leaves a mess among the other contenders.

Simulated the rest of the 2015 season with the NFL playoff predictor. I was stunned at the final NFC wild-card team: New Orleans.

— Bryn Swartz (@eaglescentral) November 25, 2015

Detroit plays three of the four teams ahead of them that are already carrying six losses: New Orleans, the Chicago Bears and the St. Louis Rams. Those three wins—remember none of this will matter without winning the next five games—give Detroit the tiebreaker over all three teams.

Plus, Detroit already has the edge over the 4-7 Eagles and hosts the 3-7 San Francisco 49ers in Week 16.

So other than the Falcons, the Lions have two other teams ahead of them to root against: the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Seahawks.

Get that illegal bat call in Seattle and Detroit is right in the thick of the NFC wild card race.

— Michael David Smith (@MichaelDavSmith) November 26, 2015

As you surely remember, the Seahawks (illegally) hold the tiebreaker over the Lions by virtue of their 13-10 home win from Week 4. That means Seattle must lose three of its last six games.

Seahawks' Last Six Games
12vs. Pittsburgh15vs. Cleveland
13at Minnesota16vs. St. Louis
14at Baltimore17at Arizona

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals give legitimate hope for two of those losses, which means the Vikings will need to come through for that third. Although, Detroit fans can take heart that St. Louis head coach Jeff Fisher only gets his team ready for division opponents, so anything is possible there.

Tampa Bay is the other 5-5 team, and it's entirely possible that the Bucs will be favored in three or four of their last six games. Yet, a rookie at the helm and a season-ending road game against Carolina are two very good reasons to presume the Bucs have another two losses in them.

The Bucs and Lions would then come down to the best conference record, and Tampa Bay's current one-game lead in this category would disappear should Carolina beat them. The Falcons are also currently one game better in the conference than the 3-4 Lions.

Lastly, should the Lions find themselves in a tie with two or more teams, the league will start with the conference record so long as one team hasn't beaten all of the other interested teams.

That's it. That's all that has to happen for Detroit to make the most improbable postseason appearance since the last time Detroit did it in 1995.

Go ahead. I know it's killing you.

Yes, I'm saying there's a chance.

Brandon Alisoglu is a Detroit Lions Featured Columnist. He also co-hosts a Lions-centric podcastLions Central Radio. Yell at him on Twitter @BrandonAlisoglu. 


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