Something strange has happened over the past five weeks as the Detroit Lions have gone from laughingstock guided by Dan Campbell's hot seat to one of the most competent teams in the NFL. Four wins in that span have moved them to the outskirts of the NFC playoff picture and presented the opportunity on the close calls (Minnesota, Buffalo, Miami, Philadelphia) not capitalized upon. Yesterday's drubbing of the Jacksonville Jaguars moved their season record to 5-7. And got a ton of people excited. Perhaps too excited. Dan Orlovsky went so far as to claim that it was a two-week year.
And while we love the enthusiasm, it must be pointed out that this is simply not the case. Detroit doesn't need to win these next two difficult games. They need to win all five remaining. The two Orlvosky mentioned and also against Chicago, Carolina and in, gulp, Lambeau Field against the Packers in 2023.
An extremely tall task. No one is more excited about not sucking more than myself, but it feels prudent to at least be upfront about the challenge ahead. The Lions must finish 10-7 after a 1-6 start and even then, it's not guaranteed that they would qualify for the postseason.
Seattle enjoys a two-game lead and the tiebreaker over Detroit. Washington and the New York Giants, who both lost to the Lions earlier this year, tied yesterday, which is a brutal beat for the long-suffering franchise. The Giants are 7-4-1 and the Commanders are 7-5-1 with another head-to-head meeting on the calendar. If either of those teams get to 9-7-1 they will get the bid over a 9-8 Detroit team.
There is no margin for error. An added wrinkle is Jimmy Garoppolo's season-ending injury. San Francisco is 8-4. They have games against the Seahawks and Commanders remaining. Detroit's best bet may be them cratering with Brock Purdy under center, though it's tough to imagine with that defense. And that would mean victories for the Seahawks and Commanders.
This is all to say that Detroit needs to rip off an impressive winning streak and get help. They can't do it alone. Consider the following scenario where Jared Goff and the Lions shock the world but still have to watch the playoffs from home at 10-7.
The Commanders beat the Giants, Niners and Browns down the stretch to finish 10-6-1. Seattle beats the Panthers, Niners and Rams to get to 10-7 with the tiebreaker. We'll concede the Giants limp to the finish as they have a difficult schedule. This would mean the Lions would need the Niners to go 2-3 to cede the NFC West to Geno Smith and finish 10-7 with a worse divisional record.
It's going to be hard. Even if Detroit wins out. Which is quite an if.
Look, we're all having the time of our lives out there seeing the Motor City come alive. It is way too early to start seriously considering the playoffs, though. And those allowing themselves to be swept away in the dream should do themselves the service of gaming this out a bit. It's going to take several acts of God, not two more wins.