From sad sacks to competitors: How the Lions became the talk of the NFL

Since losing six of their first seven games, the up-and-coming Detroit Lions have appeared on course for a rare playoff appearance. And if they do succeed, they'll be a team no one wants to face

500 team at 7-7, have any chance at all of making the NFL playoffs is pretty impressive, as their coach might tell. They opened with six losses in seven games. And they're still the Detroit Lions: historically the saddest sack team.

Since their last playoff win, on January 5, 1992, at home to the Dallas Cowboys, the Lions have played eight playoff games and lost all of them. They haven't even appeared in the playoffs since January 7, 2017, when they lost in a wild card game in Seattle.

Less than two years ago, they traded their rawhide tough quarterback, Matthew Stafford, to the Los Angeles Rams… and Stafford, of course, helped the Rams win Super Bowl LVI. Meanwhile, the Lions lost their first eight games last year and ended up a miserable 3-13-1. Several people wrote that they had a decent chance of finishing the first 0-17 streak in NFL history. But look again! The Lions can't win the NFC North this year; Minnesota (11-3) finished it. However, after Sunday's 20-17 come-from-behind win on the road over the crumbling New York Jets, the Lions have between a 34% and 43% chance of making the playoffs, according to the figures. Before Sunday, their chances were only half that.

According to the New York Times and the FiveThirtyEight predictor tool, Detroit, ninth in the NFC standings, has a 96% chance of making the playoffs by winning their last three games. So the Lions need help leapfrogging the Commanders (7-6-1) and Seahawks (7-7) to make it to the tournament.

(The Seahawks defeated the Lions in a wild head-to-head battle on October 2, 48-45. There's no way Washington and Detroit would end up with the same record, given the Commanders series, but Detroit won the head-to-head game in Sept. 18, 38-27.)

Even that 34% to 43% chance is far better than the 0% chance that the reigning Super Bowl Rams champion, without an injured Stafford for the rest of the season, after Monday's loss to the Packers. This is extraordinary for the Lions, a team with five winning seasons since 2000.

Much of the credit, as it should be, goes to the over-the-top 46-year-old sophomore head coach Dan Campbell, the Texas native who opened his tenure by promising the Lions would get knocked down sometimes. , but they will make sure to "bite the kneecap" when they wake up.

A little bite has been needed since October 30th. Lions believe in themselves. The Lions took a late lead against the Jets on a 51-yard touchdown pass – at fourth-and-1 – from Jared Goff (a QB traded for Stafford) to wide-open tight end Brock Wright, who dropped an earlier pass on a drive.

Equally impressive, the Lions' defense played "very well," as Campbell later put it, sacking New York quarterback Zach Wilson for a critical 8-yard loss on the Jets' final drive, which ended with a 58-yard missed outfield. target. The Jets have lost two straight and really need this game too. Their playoff chance percentage slipped into the 20s.

Goff said in his postgame press conference, “You'd rather win ugly than lose pretty. There were times early in the year when we won beautifully in certain situations, and then let it get away from us towards the end, and I think that's really reversed to where we are now. We've won some recent games quite easily, but we've also won some close games, and won some away games that we have to draw from and things have to go our way in the end.

“Is that in our favor, or are we making a play? I'm leaning towards making plays, whether it's the sack on that last drive, or just the stuff we do up front, we're starting to learn how to win and how to win consistently in close games in tough environments. And yes, it's a good, mature team now."
Goff, 28, a former California quarterback who the Rams picked with the first overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft, threw for 252 yards and a touchdown against the Jets. Nothing spectacular. Of the NFL quarterbacks to have thrown for more than 2,000 yards this year, he still ranks ninth in passer rankings, with 23 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
At least he played, which is more than the quarterback selected second in that 2016 draft, Carson Wentz, could say. Wentz, on his third NFL team, lost his starting job with the Commanders when he broke his finger in October. Wentz was healthy but hasn't played since.
Detroit now faces Carolina, Chicago and Green Bay – three teams with losing records. It may sound far-fetched, but the Lions still have a chance to play in their first Super Bowl. (Jacksonville, Cleveland, and Houston are NFL teams without any other Supe, but the Lions have been around since 1930.)
As things stand now, the Vikings (11-3) will be the Lions' wild card playoff opponents if they enter with the NFC's seventh and final seed. Before making history with Saturday's 39-36 overtime win over Indianapolis, Minnesota lost to Detroit, 34-23.
It was a game in which the Lions sealed victory with a gutsy third finish from Goff to 335lb offensive tackle Penei Sewell, who was reported as a qualifying receiver. Campbell would later say that he couldn't hear the game being called because the 66,374 fans at Ford Field bullied him - and apparently the Vikings - by doing the Wave.
Campbell was asked Sunday how it felt to be 7-7 after starting 1-6. He said it was a tough question to answer, "because you know you're going to get better".
Campbell would add: “You just don't know how it's going to get there or what it's going to be. You know, if you start playing better soccer, you can have a few wins in a row. I think that's the best way to put it. I don't know what it's going to look like or how it's going to be, but that's the idea. You start playing some pretty good football and you ramble two or three times in a row.
"If it's good enough to go in, great," he said of the playoffs. "Otherwise it doesn't work."

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