Let’s just say for the sake of argument that the Detroit Lions will be the NFC North Division champions in 2013. They have a mere one game lead in the division with four weeks left in the regular season, but neither the Bears or Packers look like they’re going to win too many games down the stretch, and with the Lions having the tie-breaker advantage with the Bears, it seems like a good bet that Detroit is going to end up winning the division. But how will the Lions fair once they get to the playoffs? They’ve been up and down this season, never winning or losing more than two games in a row, so when Detroit gets to the postseason, will they be a contender or pretender?
On the surface, Detroit’s offense indicates that they’ll have a chance to make some noise in the postseason. It’s hard to put Matthew Stafford in the “elite quarterback” category until he has some postseason success, but he’s played at a high level all season, making the Lions one of the top passing teams in the NFL, and giving himself a chance to eclipse the 5,000-yard mark before the end of the regular season. Helping Stafford immensely this season has been Calvin Johnson, who is arguably the best wide receiver in football right now, and at times has looked unstoppable. The duo of Stafford and Johnson, combined with a nice group of complementary receivers gives the Lions a passing attack that will be difficult to stop, even for top teams in the NFC like Seattle, Carolina, San Francisco, and New Orleans, all of whom have quality defenses.
Detroit’s offense can get even better and go to another level when running back Reggie Bush becomes involved in the offense in a meaningful way, both running and receiving, as it gives the Lions a dynamic offense that can gash teams on the ground and through the air. However, Bush is injury prone and his production isn’t always consistent from week to week, which makes him somewhat unreliable. Bush has averaged less than four yards per carry in four games this season, and the Lions have lost each one, meaning it could be tough for Detroit to win in the postseason if Bush is hampered with an injury or has difficulty getting going and contributing to the offense in a significant way.
There should also be concern about the Lions on the defensive side of the ball, especially with so many of the NFC’s top teams possessing quality defenses that Detroit will have to matchup against in the playoffs. The Lions have been erratic and unreliable on defense this season, holding their opponents to fewer than 20 points on only three occasions: against the Browns, against the Bears with a rusty Jay Cutler, and against the Packers without Aaron Rodgers. Despite having a talented and intimidating defensive line that has stopped the run and put pressure on quarterbacks, the Lions have a below average pass defense that’s allowed a lot of points this season, which has forced Stafford and the offense to perform at a high level in order to win games, and putting that much offense on Stafford and the offense in the playoffs could be like playing with fire.
With all that in mind, will the Lions be contenders or pretenders in the postseason? Pretenders. Detroit’s offensive talent and passing attack is tantalizing and can fool you into thinking they can carry it all the way to the Super Bowl. But they’ve failed to put together more than two consecutive wins at any point during the regular season, and that inconsistency indicates that they won’t be able to do so during the playoffs, especially when they’d have to do it against multiple teams with defenses that can at least slow down their great offense. Detroit doesn’t have the defense to match the other top teams in the NFC and that puts too much pressure on an offense that relies a little too much on the inconsistent and injury prone Bush, as they aren’t quite as dynamic without him. Even with a frighteningly talented offense and a home playoff game, the Lions will be pretenders this postseason.