The NFC is easily the more competitive conference this year with the Philadelphia Eagles, Minnesota Vikings, Los Angeles Rams, and New Orleans Saints all fighting for the top spot in the playoffs. One team that has easily had one of the most back-and-forth seasons is the Detroit Lions. Inconsistent is not a strong enough word to describe the Lions’ 2017 season to this point.
With four games left, Detroit sits at 6-6 and are coming off a 44-20 drubbing to the Baltimore Ravens, coincidentally a team in the AFC that is vying for a wildcard spot, that saw quarterback Matthew Stafford knocked out of the game late with a hand injury. The team has gone from to handing the Vikings an early season loss in an ugly game to dropping five of their last eight games and falling out of the race for the NFC North.
There is a lot of time left and a lot can happen for the Lions in this last month, but it just seems a little too late for this team, but it is not all their fault.
First, let’s look at the top of the conference. It is looking more like the Vikings or Eagles will finish with home field advantage in the NFC with the Rams filling in the three spot and either the Saints or Carolina Panthers rounding out the division champions. Let’s just assume that the runner-up in the South is the first Wild Card team, because that is the most likely situation.
You have the defending NFC Champion Atlanta Falcons, who could easily finish .500, the Seattle Seahawks, who are coming off a big win over the Eagles, and the Dallas Cowboys. Those three teams have a much better shot at making the playoffs right now because of their schedule.
The Lions have the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this week and you don’t really know what you’re going to get from them. They finish with the Chicago Bears, who nearly pulled out the upset two weeks ago, the Cincinnati Bengals, and the Green Bay Packers, who could have Aaron Rodgers back next week. While this should seem like a recipe for at least a 9-7 season for the Lions, there are two reasons why it could go very, very wrong for Detroit: 1. the rushing attack and 2. Jake Rudock.
The Lions have not had a single rusher over 100 yards in a game this year. Their closest being Ameer Abdullah’s 94-yard performance against the Vikings in Week 4. They haven’t sniffed the century mark since then and this just provides further evidence that they need to draft a running back next April. Also, the running attack is very important to open up the passing game, which brings me to my next point.
With 10:52 left to play in the game against Baltimore, the Lions trailed by seven. The Ravens put up a field goal to stretch their lead to 10. The next two Lions drives ended with interceptions and 14 more points for the Ravens.
Stafford threw the first interception to Marlon Humphrey and in the process went down with a hand injury. Backup Jake Rudock came into the game on the following drive having never thrown a pass in the NFL. He started off 3-4 for 24 yards and it looked like the Lions had found at least a game manager in place of Stafford.
And then, Rudock threw an awfully errant pass, which landed in the hands of Eric Weddle, who raced 45 yards for the game-sealing touchdown. Certainly not a good look for your first drive in the NFL.
If Rudock has to play for the Lions, even if just for this week against Tampa Bay, the Lions are in a lot of trouble. The Bucs have shined at times on defense and they can certainly take advantage of the former Michigan Wolverine.
If the Lions want any shot at making the playoffs for the third time in four seasons, they will need to get Stafford healthy and light a fire under someone in the backfield. Until that happens, expect the Lions to finish with a mediocre record and for them to be likely looking for a new coach come January.