Each week, we’ll look at who or what might be rising or falling with the Detroit Lions.
Run defense: The Lions have really done a good job here all season long -- and probably a good case to keep as much of the front seven intact as possible heading into next season. The Lions allowed just 41 yards rushing to New York (1.95 yards an attempt) and no touchdowns again. Other than the snow game against Philadelphia, this group has been extremely strong against the run this season.
Young cornerbacks: Detroit is going to need to figure out what it is going to do in the secondary next season no matter who the coach is. Chris Houston had a disappointing year, and Rashean Mathis is a free agent. But the Lions saw promise from their younger corners against New York. Jonte Green and Chris Greenwood held their own against New York -- and Green the week before against Baltimore, too. They aren’t ideal starters, but with an offseason of development could become reliable depth behind whoever plays corner for Detroit in 2014. This includes Darius Slay, who showed improvement before tearing his meniscus earlier this month.
Draft pick: Being out of the playoffs means a better draft pick and if the Lions lose Sunday, they could end up in the Top 10 again. They’ll probably be picking in the top half of the draft again and would probably use the selection on a cornerback or a wide receiver at this point.
Carlin Isles: The Lions signed the rugby star to their practice squad Thursday morning. Isles played football and ran track at Ashland University before starting to play rugby in 2012. He is part of the United States national team for rugby sevens and could make his Olympic debut in 2016. He’s that good.
Lions playoff hopes: They are now non-existent. The Lions have only pride -- and, for some, their futures -- to play for Sunday in the season finale against Minnesota. Truly an almost unbelievable collapse in the second half of the season if I hadn’t watched it all myself.
Head coach Jim Schwartz: Barring something very, very, very unexpected, Sunday will be the final game of Schwartz’s career with the Lions. The way Detroit collapsed at the end of the last two seasons combined with his outburst about -- and somewhat toward -- the fans Sunday against the Giants probably sealed his fate with Detroit. The only reason I use probably here is that the Ford family is known for extreme, and sometimes too extreme, patience with people. If they want him to stay, he’ll stay. But it is tough to see a scenario where that happens.
Veterans' hopes: If Schwartz is indeed fired, that could cause more change in the Detroit locker room, which means tougher decisions on center Dominic Raiola, who is a free agent after the season, Mathis and receiver Nate Burleson, who has one year left on his contract and has already told MLive he would restructure his contract to stay with the team. But their value to Detroit would depend on who the new coach is and what he is looking for in each spot. This is the tough part of the business of the NFL. All three veterans have played well this seasons.