Why the Lions won't go 0-16 -- and why they could improve fast

The 2008 Lions headed south after Jon Kitna went on IR, leaving a void at quarterback. So long as Matthew Stafford stays healthy, these Lions should avoid a similar fate. AP Photo/Scott Eklund

ALLEN PARK, Mich. – The Detroit Lions are the last winless team in the NFL, and considering the franchise’s history, the mind can begin to wander.

The Lions are the only team in the history of the league to go 0-16, in 2008. And since 2001, the franchise has started the season 0-5 three times – 2008, 2006 and 2001. That is something the Lions are trying to avoid Sunday when they face Arizona.

With the understanding that anything could happen, that an injury to quarterback Matthew Stafford or other players could alter this, it is highly unlikely the Lions will repeat that season of ignominy.

Here are five reasons the Lions won’t go winless in 2015 -- and could actually make a run:

1. The schedule lightens up considerably. Despite the Lions’ 0-4 start, ESPN’s Football Power Index still has them finishing 6-10. The FPI has Detroit projected as a favorite in five games over the rest of the year – both games against Chicago, and at home against Minnesota, Oakland and San Francisco. That includes two of their next three games. And of the remaining 12 games on the schedule, in only three (both contests against Green Bay, and Sunday against Arizona) does the FPI have the Lions as a significant underdog. In the other nine games the Lions are either favored or an underdog by a field goal or less. That bodes well for the Lions winning a few.

Plus, the Lions actually outperformed the pregame prediction of Seattle being favored by 10.8 points on Monday night. This team has a better chance of being closer to .500 than .000 by the end of the season because they still have seven home games remaining and, as mentioned before, the schedule gets much, much lighter.

2. Stafford is still healthy. The offense has a bunch of issues, the run game is still terrible, but having your starting quarterback healthy is a huge thing – and that was an issue in 2008 when Jon Kitna went on injured reserve. Once Kitna went on IR, the Lions were left with mostly inexperienced quarterbacks, including Dan Orlovsky. So as long as Stafford is able to play, the Lions should win some games. Even though he hasn’t played well – he’s No. 25 in QBR at 50.3 and No. 27 in passer rating at 79.7 – he is still the team’s most indispensable player.

3. The defense is showing signs of improvement, and is much better than in 2008. The adage goes that defense wins championships. Well, it also wins games. The 2008 team allowed 404 yards per game and was ranked last in the league in almost every major defensive category, including allowing 32.3 points per game. This year’s team is allowing eight points fewer per game (24.0) and is being outscored by 7.5 points per game. That 2008 team? They were outscored, on average, by 15.6 points. That, actually, has been a point of confidence among the Lions when asked why they still believe – they have not been blown out of a game and feel they are close, evidenced by what happened against Seattle. They also picked up six sacks and scored a defensive touchdown against the Seahawks.

4. The Lions are forcing turnovers. One of the biggest issues in 2008 was a lack of turnovers created; that team picked off only four passes and recovered 16 fumbles. These Lions already have intercepted three passes and recovered six fumbles – so they are both stopping more possessions and giving the offense more chances to score. Detroit's 0 turnover margin is actually in the middle of the league, and is better than that of four of the teams they still have to face (five games because Detroit plays Chicago twice).

5. The law of averages says no. Yes, the Lions went 0-16, but that team was historically bad. Since that point, only one NFL team – the 2009 St. Louis Rams – won fewer than two games. With parity the rule in the NFL and injuries shifting teams and fortunes from one week to the next, and with the Lions being competitive every week, it is more likely Detroit wins sooner rather than later.