The past two Lions playoff appearances (2014 and 2016) were hindered by an inability to beat the Green Bay Packers when it counted most, in the regular season finale.
A win to close out either season would have captured that ever so elusive NFC North division title. Detroit came up short both times, falling to battle-tested Packers teams and instead ending up as a Wildcard.
Talent wise, Detroit has narrowed the gap with the Packers in recent years. They have shown an ability to compete, but not quite finish when going up against Aaron Rodgers with the division on the line.
There’s a mental aspect to football that can sometimes trump talent, particularly during critical moments at the ends of games. The Packers believe they are superior to Detroit, mostly because they have been for over twenty years.
Last season, Green Bay swept Detroit in two one-possession games, during a season in which the Lions led eight fourth-quarter comeback wins. So why wasn’t Detroit able to achieve the same level of late-game success when going up against Green Bay?
Winning big games is not something the Lions have been able to do consistently, but it is really the last thing holding this team back in becoming an actual threat to the rest of the league.
The Lions have some stability at head coach with Jim Caldwell entering his fourth season with the team. Bobby Ross was the last Lions coach to make the playoffs in two out of his first three seasons, as Caldwell has now achieved.
In 2015, Caldwell’s team broke a twenty-four game Lions losing streak to the Packers at Lambeau Field. To become any kind of threat to win the division or an eventual Super Bowl, though, they need to dethrone the Packers when it matters.
That’s easier said than done, and it’s not as if Rodgers isn’t one of the greatest to ever play the quarterback position.
But with Matthew Stafford’s contract likely to be extended soon, and big reinforcements brought in along the offensive line in T.J. Lang and Rick Wagner, the Lions must finally slay the dragon.
Some will point to a lack of a run game, offensive line, or even Matthew Stafford’s finger, as the cause for the Detroit’s shortcomings. But to even earn a chance for a divisional showdown in the season’s final game means you must have played good football for most of the year.
The great teams find a way to win those games when it counts the most. The Patriots overcame a 25-point deficit in the Super Bowl earlier this year. People are going to rightfully look at Stafford to step up big in next year’s battles with the Packers. Although, he’s played well against them despite the 2016 sweep.
In those two losses, Stafford threw for a combined 732 yards and 5 TDs, for a quarterback rating of 104.3.
General Manager Bob Quinn has aggressively gone after holes on the roster. Adding RG TJ Lang, the former Packer, instantly makes Detroit better and Green Bay worse in a single move. The draft netted linebacker Jarrad Davis, cornerback Teez Tabor, both potentially dynamic players at positions of need.
So can Detroit finally surpass the Packers to win the NFC North to give Ford Field its first-ever home playoff game this year? It’s entirely possible, and people around the NFL are starting to believe the Lions are 2017 division favorites.
If Detroit can get over this mental hurdle, better known as the Packers, fans could see the first ever relevant banner up in the rafters at Ford Field.