As teams get mathematically eliminated from the NFL playoffs, we’ll give you a jump on their offseason by examining what went right, what went wrong and what needs to change before next season.
This entry would be a lot different had the Lions not blown a Week 16 game against the Bengals. With a win there, the Lions would have been in good shape to make the playoffs with a Week 17 win over the Green Bay Packers with Brett Hundley at quarterback. But the Lions lost a listless game to the Bengals and were eliminated. You look back and Golden Tate being ruled inches short of the goal line against the Falcons, and the final 10 seconds being run off after a review to finish a Lions loss, was a much bigger result than we knew at the time.
What went right: The Lions didn’t have a bad year. They lived off good fortune in close games last season, but there was a more solid foundation this season. A lot of credit should go to quarterback Matthew Stafford. The notion that the Lions would have been better off not paying him and moving on is absolutely crazy. Cornerback Darius Slay had a year that rivals any corner in the game. Marvin Jones had a 1,000-yard season and proved he’s one of the better receivers in football. Rookies Jarrad Davis and Kenny Golladay showed promise at times. This wasn’t a terrible team.
What went wrong: The inability of the Lions to find a decent running back is amazing. When the Lions were eliminated after their Week 16 loss, they hadn’t had a 100-yard rusher all year. The last time the Lions had a 100-yard rusher in a game was Thanksgiving of 2013, which is one of the weirder streaks in the NFL. As a team, the Lions rushed for more than 104 yards only once in their first 15 games this season. Ameer Abdullah seemed to lose favor late in the season and it’s probably time for the Lions to find a new running back. Detroit’s defense was in the bottom third of the NFL again, and they face a tough free agency decision on Ezekiel Ansah, who is by far their best pass rusher but has been very inconsistent the past two seasons.
Will the coach be back?: It seems like Jim Caldwell will be gone, though the Lions haven’t said much about it. Not that it’s a great reason to fire a coach, but it would probably be tough to get the fans excited for another year of Caldwell. He hasn’t been bad, however. One interesting side note is what happens with the Lions’ coordinators. There will probably be many head-coach openings, and offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin will be candidates for at least a few of them. Would the Lions fire Caldwell in an effort to promote one of their young assistants before someone else can hire them?
Do they have a quarterback?: To all the Matthew Stafford haters: Do you really think the Lions could do better? The hardest thing to find in the NFL is a franchise quarterback. Stafford has thrown for at least 4,000 yards and 20 touchdowns in seven straight seasons. His rating over the past three seasons is 95.8. He’s probably not a Hall of Famer, but he is good. He’s better than a lot of quarterbacks who will be in the playoffs, he just doesn’t have a good enough team around him. The Lions have issues, like any non-playoff team, but if you think Stafford is somehow holding this team back, you are delusional.
Quick free agent fix: Can we finally get Matthew Stafford a good running back? It doesn’t need to be Le’Veon Bell, though that would be quite fun. How about someone like Carlos Hyde? Basically, go get someone who can run for 100 yards in a game. That would help Stafford more than anything else. It’s also not too much to ask.
Quick draft fix: Only two Lions players have more than 2.5 sacks this season: Ezekiel Ansah and Anthony Zettel. Zettel was a huge surprise early in the season, and he has a half of a sack over the past six weeks. Ansah will be a free agent. If the Lions can’t retain Ansah — who will command a huge deal after two up-and-down seasons affected by injuries — they need to add to the pass rush. Realistically, they need to add to the pass rush whether Ansah is back or not. The Lions won’t have a very high pick, but perhaps an edge rusher will slip to them in the middle of the first round.
Give it to me straight, can my team make the playoffs in 2018?: They were close enough this season that you can’t rule it out. Still, there are many questions. It’s probably worth seeing who the coach is before answering. If I had to guess today, I won’t be picking the Lions to make the playoffs next season, though it wouldn’t be the craziest thing if they made it.
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