How do the 2017 Detroit Lions Compare to Recent Playoff Teams?

Through ten weeks of the NFL season, the Detroit Lions sit at 5-4, 2-0 in the division, and are two games back of the Minnesota Vikings (7-2). The Lions are currently on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoffs, but the 2nd easiest schedule to finish off the season, and divisional matchups versus Minnesota at home and the Green Bay Packers bodes well for them to potentially overtake the division.

Assuming all goes well, the Lions could find themselves in position for a home playoff game for the first time since 1993. How good is this 2017 Lions team in comparison to past playoff teams? Let’s dive in.

Detroit Lions Playoff Seasons (Since 2011)

2011 2014 2016 2017
Reg. Season Record 10-6 11-5 9-7 5-4
Total Offense 5th 19th 21st 18th
Passing 4th 12th 11th 8th
Rushing 29th 28th 30th 29th
Points/Game 4th 22nd 20th 6th
Total Defense 23rd 2nd 18th 21st
Passing 22nd 13th 19th 23rd
Rushing 23rd 1st 18th 10th
Points/Game 23rd 3rd 13th 21st
Turnover Differential 4th (+11) 6th (+7) 20th (-1)* 3rd (+7)
*5th in giveaways, but 28th in takeaways


2011: 10-6 Regular Season, 6th seed in playoffs. Lost at New Orleans 45-28 in Wild-card

The 2011 season was a season of great success for the Lions, as they made the playoffs just three years following their 0-16 season. Matthew Stafford become just the 4th quarterback in history to surpass 5,000 yards passing in a season. Add in the young offensive weapons of Calvin Johnson, Kevin Smith, Titus Young, and Brandon Pettigrew, this team appeared primed to be a consistent playoff contender for years to come.

During the wildcard game against the New Orleans Saints, Detroit hung in tough, only trailing 24-21 going into the 4th quarter. However, Drew Brees took control and an interception by Stafford allowed the Saints to pull away with a 17-point victory.

2014: 11-5 Regular Season, 6th seed in playoffs. Lost at Dallas 24-20 in Wild-card

2014 was a very different year from the 2011 season. Boasting the league’s No. 2 overall defense, Detroit won games with strong defense, minimal turnovers, and allowing quarterback Matthew Stafford to be smarter and less of a gunslinger. The Lions finished the season with their best record in fifteen seasons, however, a loss on the road in week 17 to the Packers sent them from a potential #2 seed in the playoffs to #6.

The playoff game against the Dallas Cowboys is one that still stings for Detroit fans. Leading 20-7 in the 3rd quarter, Detroit faithful saw the lead slip away, as two fumbles by Stafford and a couple strong drives by Tony Romo and company lead to the Cowboys coming away victorious. This game is still considered highly controversial, as a pass by Stafford intended for tight end Brandon Pettigrew fell incomplete due to a Cowboys defender face guarding him. A flag was immediately thrown for passing interference, which was later picked up by the officials, leading to 4th down.

The call is controversial because a) the flag being picked up was one of the first times in recent memory a penalty that appear obvious to even the most diehard Cowboy fans b) Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant stormed onto the field without his helmet to argue the call with an official, which by rule is an automatic unsportsmanlike conduct call. The flag was never thrown. 48 hours following the game, there was another report that a blatant holding call on a Dallas Cowboys offensive lineman went un-flagged as well.

2016: 9-7 Regular Season, 6th seed in playoffs, Lost at Seattle 26-6 in Wild-card

2016 was a season filled with comeback victories, MVP talk, and finished with more people talking about Matthew Stafford’s finger than the rest of the Detroit Lions entire roster. Sitting at 9-4 with three games remaining, Stafford had suffered torn ligaments and a slight dislocation in his right middle finger. This forced the Lions quarterback to wear a special glove on his throwing hand and his once MVP-potential season regressed rapidly.

He would go on to finish the last three games with just three TDs, five INTs and a completion percentage seven points lower than his previous 13 games. Losing their final three games, Detroit fell to 9-7 and were the #6 seed going into the playoffs once again.

The playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks appeared to be heavily lopsided, but the game was extremely close until the 4th quarter. In fact, Detroit was down 13-6 and had the ball early in the 4th quarter before a terrible string of plays lead to a punt. Seattle then pulled away with a touchdown drive. Overall, the season was still successful as the playoffs were made, but Detroit fans know that just one month prior they were 9-4 and looking like the team to beat in the NFC. It is truly amazing how one finger changed all momentum for the Lions that season.

2017: 5-4 record, 2-0 in division, 2nd in NFC North

With an easier schedule coming in, the Lions have a once again a legitimate opportunity to win the NFC North for the first time in nearly thirty years. In regards to rankings, Detroit’s offense ranks better offensively than the past two playoff seasons, but yet weaker on the defensive end. Compared to the 2016 season, the Lions have vastly improved their turnover differential– a key stat for their 2011 and 2014 seasons.

Additionally, the passing offense is beginning to come alive, ranking in the top-10 through ten weeks. The last time they went to the playoffs and were in the top 10 was 2011, when Matthew Stafford surpassed 5,000 yards passing.

Overall, the Lions have made the playoffs three times since 2011 and each time it has been a little bit differently. 2011 was a season with a prolific offense and opportunistic defense, whereas 2014 was a prolific defense and a fairly efficient offense. 2016 was the year where Stafford made his mark on Detroit and took the city by storm, proving to anyone in question that he was one of the best, with or without Calvin Johnson to throw to.

Through 10 weeks, the 2017 numbers are a mixture of all three seasons. The offense is explosive (at times), the defense is stout (at times), and the turnover efficiency is extremely proficient. It will be exciting to see how the rest of this season plays out and to examine where they stand in comparison.


To learn more about Tyler Bantle, check out his twitter here.

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One thought on “How do the 2017 Detroit Lions Compare to Recent Playoff Teams?

  • November 16, 2017 at 7:21 pm

    Odds of the lions winning the nfc north? Probably wont happen even with Rodgers out and Minnesota playing with keenum, who has played extremely well. If stafford really is worth that big contract he should be able to get the job done. Especially considering the games left for detroit in the north are a terrible bears team and two home games against the packers and vikings. Still its the lions, and they will find a way to blow it.

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