Free Head Exam: Detroit Lions

After the Detroit Lions' 38-10 victory over the San Diego Chargers, here are three issues that merit further examination:

  1. What the Lions have done this season might seem to be a standard expectation for every NFL team, but it is exceptional relative to the Lions' history. You already know they have earned their first playoff berth in 12 years. The 2011 season also brought the Lions' first 10-win season in 16 years and only the eighth 10-win season since the franchise moved to Detroit in 1934. If the Lions defeat the Packers next Sunday, it will be their first season of at least 11 victories since 1991 and only the third since the Detroit relocation. Coach Jim Schwartz has spoken often about getting the team to a point where accomplishments are expected rather than celebrated. But I'm sure you realize how unique this season has been.

  2. I don't think there's any question the Lions should be pushing for a No. 5 seed in the NFC playoffs, allowing them to bypass a wild-card trip to the Superdome to play the New Orleans Saints and instead leaving them to play at the winner of the NFC East (either the Dallas Cowboys or New York Giants.) The Saints are undefeated at home this season, handed the Lions a 14-point loss there earlier this month and have the NFL's hottest quarterback in Drew Brees. At the bottom of this post is an updated version of the chart we introduced early Sunday morning. There are now eight relevant final-week scenarios for the Lions. As you can see, the No. 5 seed is not a lock, win or lose Sunday at Lambeau Field. But the Lions can only do their part, and that is doing their best to win Sunday. They should be motivated and feel great incentive to beat the Packers, who might rest at least some of their key starters.

  3. Quarterback Matthew Stafford has pretty much cleared the single-season passing records for Lions history. We laid out the parameters earlier this month, and Stafford has eclipsed most of them. With a week left to play, he has set new records for completions (385), attempts (604), yards (4,518) and touchdowns (36). If he maintains a completion percentage above 63.28, he'll set that record as well. His percentage currently stands at 63.74. The one unattainable record: Dave Krieg's mark of a 101.7 passer rating. Stafford is at 96.6. Regardless, I think the football world is now fully aware of what we've been discussing for months: Stafford is one of the NFL's top quarterbacks.

And here is one issue I still don't get:

This isn't a new topic around here, but I'm still not sure how significant it is that the Lions haven't had a productive running game this season. Saturday, running backs Kevin Smith and Maurice Morris combined for 71 yards on 20 carries, and through 16 weeks the Lions have the fourth-lowest total of rushing yards in the NFL (1,423). They also have the second-fewest attempts (341). So part of me thinks their running game should be written off as a smart afterthought considering how explosive their passing game is. But you also wonder whether they'll be hampered in the playoffs -- potentially in cold and/or foul weather sites in New York, Green Bay or San Francisco -- by being so invested in the passing game. The Lions know that in an ideal world they would benefit from balance, or else they wouldn't have spent high draft choices on Jahvid Best and Mikel Leshoure in the past two years. They've adjusted without it, and they'll have to hope they can carry that formula into the playoffs.