November 29th, 2017
After Thanksgiving loss, Lions’ road
to the playoffs is doubtful – at best
By KEITH GAVE
To begin with a wee bit of good news about our lovable Detroit Lions: They have five games remaining, and they’re all eminently winnable.
Finish 11-5 and the playoffs are a lock, with a better than average shot at a home game, too.
But long-suffering fans who know all too well there’s a dark lining in every fluffy cloud hovering above this team are smart enough to know that’s about where the optimism hits the wall. The reality – and it would be unfair to offer it up as bad news – is that the Lions almost certainly have to run the table to earn a playoff berth for the third time in four years.
Winning three games in 11 days is a big ask of any football team, and the Lions fell short of that hat trick with a narrow Thanksgiving Day loss to Minnesota. Now the Vikings look like the runaway NFC North Division winners. But the loss might have been devastating, cutting the Lions odds of making the playoffs in half, according to the math gurus who figure out these things.
Before Thanksgiving, the Lions had about a 50/50 chance of making the playoffs. That dropped to 23 percent, according to the website FiveThirtyEight.com, which has a remarkable reputation for accuracy in predicting all things sports and politics. After Detroit’s loss to the 9-2 Vikings, the site gives the Lions just a 23 percent chance of making the playoffs – less than one in four.
The Lions, of course, are saying to hell with the percentages. Let’s play the games and see who’s standing in the end.
“If you’re around .500 a little bit before when you’re sitting down for your Thanksgiving meal, you’ve still got a chance,” Caldwell said after the game, repeating a time-honored adage around the NFL. “We’ve got a lot of football yet to play, and you don’t know what’s going to happen.
“There’s other games that are being played too. I know the media will paint it like the sky is falling, but the sky is not falling for us. We’ve got to get ourselves a little bit better and keep moving forward.”
Sky falling or not, Chicken Little knows it all starts Sunday, 1 p.m., at Baltimore – perhaps the most difficult of the five remaining games left on the schedule. In fact, at 6-5 the Ravens are the only team on Detroit’s remaining schedule with a winning record.
Win on Sunday, and the Lions are left with games at Tampa Bay (4-7); vs. Chicago (3-8); at Cincinnati (5-6); and vs. Green Bay (5-6). The finale at the Ford Field against the Packers on
New Year’s Eve could be interesting if Green Bay comes in with Aaron Rodgers under center after missing most of the season to injury.
Barring a small miracle, the Packers won’t be a contender for a playoff berth, but they sure as hell could be a factor in the race if he plays the final two games on Green Bay’s schedule – against Minnesota on the frozen tundra and then the Lions in Detroit.
The Lions crept into the playoffs as a wildcard team in 2016. That’s the exception. It typically takes at least 10 wins to earn the privilege to play in the Super Bowl tournament, but that isn’t likely to happen for the Lions even if they go 4-1 down the stretch. They’ll be competing for a wildcard berth in the NFC with New Orleans (8-3), Atlanta (7-4) and Carolina (8-3). Even if the Wings managed to tie any of them in the overall standings, they lose the head-to-head tiebreaker. Detroit has lost to each of them this season.
In other words, even while chalking up victories, good news might be hard to come by for these Lions. They’re going to need some help to extend their season into January.