Opinion: Pivotal Next Three Games for Lions’ Postseason Hopes

It’s hard to imagine that just two weeks ago, the Detroit Lions were coming off a deflating 17-14 loss at Soldier Field to a very shorthanded Chicago Bears team.

Shorthanded is putting it nicely. The Bears were without starting quarterback Jay Cutler, starting tailback Jeremy Langford, their top two pass rushing linebackers Danny Trevathan and Lamarr Houston, and cornerback Deon Bush.

Detroit trailed the entire game, and their anemic offense couldn’t even manage a single touchdown. The Lions only put points on the board by punt return and a pair of Matt Prater field goals.

After a disappointing 16-15 home loss against Tennessee, a game in which Detroit looked like they had all but won, and then losing in Lambeau Field the next week, the loss in Chicago handed the Lions their third straight loss of the season.

They dropped to dead last within the NFC North and coach Jim Caldwell’s coaching seat began heating up once again. With Detroit staring down a 1-3 record entering a seemingly improbable stretch of winnable games, the Lions began winning.

Detroit eked out a 24-23 comeback win at home against a hot Philadelphia Eagles team, and came from behind the following week behind a surge in the fourth quarter to knock off the Los Angeles Rams 31-28. Both fourth quarter comeback wins have found the Lions right back in contention in the NFC.

The Lions now sit at 3-3 and trail the second place Green Bay Packers by just a half-game in the NFC North. While the Minnesota Vikings remain the lone undefeated team in the NFL, and look to be the favorite in the NFC North. The Packers suddenly are starting to look beatable, with their offense looking all out of sorts.

The Lions are getting great play out of quarterback Matthew Stafford. They’re riding this little two game win streak, and over the next three weeks have a chance to make a significant move when they face three winning teams, including two from the AFC.

Detroit will try finishing off a mini three-game sweep for this homestead as they host a very hot Washington Redskins team, winners of four straight games after dropping their first two. They’ll then hit the road to face a 4-2 Houston Texans team, and then they’ll have a divisional matchup with the rolling 5-0 Minnesota Vikings.

If Detroit can continue playing well, and find a way to take one, if not two games over this tough three-game stretch, they could position themselves to be potential contenders come November and December.

It’s very critical for Detroit to find a way no matter how it may look, to stack up wins at home. They have a very tough remaining road schedule this season, including matchups in Minnesota, at the Giants and then finishing their road play in Dallas, who is looking as the pick to emerge as the NFC champ.

While the offense has been clicking the past couple weeks, as they begin facing tougher foes, they are going to need to get a lot more out of their defense. The Lion defense have been unable to stop the pass all season, ranking 27th in yards allowed per play, along with the run, where they also sit at 27th in yards allowed per play. On top of that, the defense is allowing the third most yards allowed per play.

Detroit’s defense will face a confident Redskins offensive unit which boasts an impressive stat averaging the second most yards per play in the league. With the deficiencies that Detroit’s linebackers have been facing in coverage, Kirk Cousins and his unit, who are fifth in the league in passing, will look to exploit those areas if Detroit does not tighten that up.

The good news for the Lions defensive front is that star defensive end Ezekiel Ansah returned in the win last week against the Rams. After missing three games with a high ankle sprain, Ansah did not record a sack in the win, but he’s much closer to returning to full health and form that the Pro Bowler knows he capable of.

Detroit will still be without top linebacker DeAndre Levy for the time being, and there is still no word on when defensive tackle Haloti Ngata will return.

Despite some key injuries on defense, defensive coordinator Teryl Austin will need to find a way to get his defense to tighten up as the Lions begin a pivotal stretch to prove whether or not they are ready to take the leap as a playoff contender.