1st Place Detroit Lions?
So I’m listening to Doug Karsch and Scott ‘the Gator’ Anderson on 97.1FM The Ticket this morning here in Detroit and they’re discussing the Lions game from yesterday. As usual when talking about the Lions, inevitably the gripes come up about the Week 1 loss to the Chicago Bears and the disallowed Calvin Johnson catch. I don’t blame them, as they did get jobbed by the refs that day on the catch. Though it was no guarantee that they win that game, since (1) there were still about 40 seconds left in the game, (2) the Bears were doing great with kick returns all game and (3) all they would have needed to do was get into FG range to either tie the game or win it (depending on whether or not the Lions were able to convert on the 2-pt conversion).
They also lamented that if the Lions could have gotten the Bears win and maybe another game where they were close, the NFC North division race would look completely different and the Lions would be able to compete. So I went to look at the current NFC North standings to see just how different the race would look had the Lions been able to pull off wins in their close games.
Currently, the standings look like this (record in division games in parenthesis):
CHI — 4-2 (2-0)
GB — 3-3 (1-1)
MIN — 2-3 (1-0)
DET — 1-5 (0-3)
Now, let’s first give the Lions a victory the Week 1 game against the Bears. Second, I believe the Lions got ripped off in the game they lost to the Packers 28-26. They were driving for a game-winning FG late in that game and there were at least 2 passing plays where Packers’ DB Charles Woodson was guilty of Pass Interference (PI) and it wasn’t called. The most blatant was a 4th Down pass to Calvin Johnson where Woodson was all over him. The refs didn’t throw the flag, the pass fell incomplete and the Lions turned the ball over on downs. Game over, Lions lose. Well, I believe the Lions were the victims of the refs giving preferential treatment to veteran DBs like Woodson. I further believe the Lions would have driven down for a game-winning FG had the flags been thrown on Woodson for his PIs. So let’s give a win to the Lions in the Packers game.
Now, watch how dramatically this changes the NFC North standings:
DET — 3-3 (2-1)
CHI — 3-3 (1-1)
MIN — 2-3 (1-0)
GB — 2-4 (0-2)
The Detroit Lions would be in 1st Place! And the pre-season favorite by the so-called “experts” for the Super Bowl, the Packers, would be in last place, with 2 division losses! Simply amazing.
As it is, I still think this division is up for grabs. My Bears have MAJOR issues with their OL and have a BRUTAL end of season schedule (MIN, @MIA, PHI, @DET, NE, @MIN, NYJ, @GB). I have them pegged to finish 8-8 (3-3), losing their last 5 games of the season. But that’s giving them wins vs PHI and MIN at home. Lose those and the Bears are at 6-10 (2-4).
Let’s look at Green Bay: MIN, @NYJ, DAL, @MIN, @ATL, SF, @DET, @NE, NYG, CHI
Damn, that’s one tough schedule. Given their injuries, they could easily lose all of those, in my opinion, with the best chances for victories coming against DAL, SF, @DET, NYG and CHI. Let’s be generous and say that’s how it works out. That puts the Packers at 8-8 (3-3). In other words, tied with the Bears. But that’s giving the Packers wins in tough games vs DAL, @DET and NYG. And the season ending game vs CHI could come down to a playoff spot. So a lot could be on the line and that game would be no guarantee. Worst case, as I see it, with losses to DAL, @DET and NYG puts the Pack at 5-11 (2-4)!
Let’s look at Minnesota: @GB, @NE, ARI, @CHI, GB, @WAS, BUF, NYG, CHI, @PHI, @DET
Another tough schedule with 6 road and 5 home games. Starting with being generous, let’s give them wins @GB, ARI, GB, @WAS, BUF, NYG, CHI, @DET. That puts them at 10-6 (5-1) and in 1st Place over the 8-8 Pack and 8-8 Bears. But @WAS, NYG and @DET will be tough games. Let’s say they falter there. That puts the Vikings at 7-9 (4-2).
Finally, let’s look at the Lions: WAS, NYJ, @BUF, @DAL, NE, CHI, GB, @TB, @MIA, MIN
Now, let’s keep in mind that the Lions get Matthew Stafford back after their BYE week, starting with the WAS game. That will be a HUGE shot in the arm and morale booster having their leader back at QB. Let’s start with being generous, giving them wins against WAS, @BUF, CHI, GB, @TB and MIN. That puts them at 7-9 (3-3). Now, before I get to the worst case, let’s see how the Lions’ best case stacks up against the worst case for the rest of the division:
MIN — 7-9 (4-2)
DET — 7-9 (3-3)
CHI — 6-10 (3-3)
GB — 5-11 (2-4)
Wow. The Lions would finish tied for 1st Place, but lose the tie-breaker (division record).
Now let’s see how they would have done if we combine this scenario with wins @CHI and @GB:
DET — 9-7 (5-1)
MIN — 7-9 (4-2)
CHI — 5-11 (2-4)
GB — 4-12 (1-5)
NFC North Division Champion DETROIT LIONS! Wow.
Granted, that would also mean the Lions go 8-2 the rest of the season, but I think it’s doable with (1) Matthew Stafford (2) an improved defense and (here’s the key) (3) more discipline with regards to penalties. That’s really what has been killing the Lions so far this season: (1) dumb penalties killing drives and (2) turnovers at horrible times (ie the Nate Burleson fumble in yesterday’s game @NYG when the Lions were driving to take the lead late in the game). If the Lions can make these improvements, they could really shake things up in the NFC North.
However, if they don’t fix those problems, I’d take away wins against WAS, @BUF, GB and MIN. That would put them at 4-12 (1-5) and last place once again.
Regardless of how things turn out in the division this season (which will probably be somewhere in between my ‘best case’ and ‘worst case’ scenarios for each team), I think the future looks really bright for the Lions going forward. With Bret Farve retiring, the Vikings go back to being just an average 7-10 win team. The Bears success going forward will be based on fixing their OL, then they will be dangerous. And the Packers just need to keep their players healthy and fix their discipline problem with penalties. With a full season of Matthew Stafford, lots of weapons for him to utilize on offense and an ever improving Lions defense, this division could be wide open for ANYONE to take — including the LIONS — in the next 5 years.
And it will be great watching the maturity of 3 young QBs in Stafford, Culter and Rodgers. If the Bears ever fix their OL problems to allow Cutler more than 2 seconds to throw, we could be looking at 3 of the most exciting young offenses in the NFC the next 5-10 years.
Let’s just hope everyone can stay healthy and we’ll be able to enjoy some pretty competitive football, with no one dominant team, in the NFC North for many years going forward.
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