Detroit Lions: Power Rankings

The main key for success for the Detroit Lions this season is remarkably simple and has been the main focus of the franchise since it fired coach Jim Schwartz following the 2013 season.

Stafford
Stafford
From hiring new head coach Jim Caldwell, offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi and quarterbacks coach Jim Bob Cooter to signing Golden Tate, re-signing Brandon Pettigrew and drafting Eric Ebron, that focus has been giving quarterback Matthew Stafford everything he could possibly need to succeed.

Stafford has to use those tools to turn into the elite quarterback the team has been hoping for since they drafted him first overall in 2009. Statistically, Stafford has been one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL, putting up massive numbers for the Lions during his first five seasons.

Yet for every fourth-quarter comeback he completed and remarkable play he made, he has also made a decision leaving those watching and wondering what he saw or thought on that play. That has been the conundrum of Stafford's career. The Lions believe any issues Stafford has are correctable and these are the guys to do it after working with Peyton Manning and Drew Brees.

If the Lions turn Stafford into the consistent quarterback that led them to the playoffs in 2011 full-time, then the entire shift in coaching staffs and upgrading the offensive roster will have been worth it. But it all falls to Stafford -- as it often does to quarterbacks around the league.

There's a reason many franchises believe they can go only as far as the quarterback plays. Thus far, Stafford has taken them from a club that didn't win a game in 2008 to one with realistic playoff expectations each season.

Detroit has set itself up for more than that now, though. The Lions have a roster with enough talent to at least make a run at the playoffs, if not succeed in the postseason. If they do, Stafford and his improvement will play a major role in making it that far.
A weekly examination of the Lions' ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 24 | Last Week: 20 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

The Lions fired Jim Schwartz on Monday, most of the players are already headed to offseason destinations and the only thing that really matters for Detroit now is who it will hire as a new coach.

That comes, of course, because of what happened to Detroit over the final two months of the season, when the Lions fell from leading the NFC North to out of the playoffs. The slide was captured well in the Power Rankings, as the Lions were as high as No. 9 in Week 11.

Then Detroit started to drop. And drop. And drop some more, until the team finished the season right around where it was predicted to finish. The Lions had a preseason ranking of 24. They have a final regular-season ranking of 21. The saddest part for the Lions is this ties their second-highest finish in the Power Rankings with the 2004 season. The only year that was better: the 2011 season, when Detroit made the playoffs.
A weekly examination of the Lions' ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 24 | Last Week: 17 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

The fall to preseason expectations for the Detroit Lions is almost complete. After reaching as high as No. 9 in Week 11, the Lions have cascaded down the rankings as fast as their record plummeted from one potentially representing a divisional champion to a team likely hunting for a new coach a week from now.

Now for the most amazing part -- even at No. 20, this is the second-highest the Lions have been in the power rankings this late in the season since 2002. The only time Detroit was higher was during its playoff season in 2011, when the Lions were seventh. That, right there, shows the overall struggles of this franchise since the turn of the century.

Detroit has actually dropped eight spots in the past two weeks, going from 12th in Week 15 to 20th entering the final week of the season.
A weekly examination of the Lions' ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 24 | Last Week: 12 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

Like the famous Tom Petty song, the Lions are now free ... free fallin’. Detroit has lost four of five games, each loss looking worse than the previous one. They lost leads in the fourth quarter in all of them, and along the way lost control of the NFC North and a potential playoff berth in the process.

The Lions fell five spots in the latest Power Rankings to 17th, and perhaps this is all that needs to be said about this franchise at this point. Since the Power Rankings started in 2002, this is still the second-highest ranking for Detroit at this point in the season, only bettered by 2011, when the Lions made the playoffs. This season’s struggles might be the most painful, though, because of the promise and potential Detroit showed at the beginning of the season. Now, unless the Lions get some major help, that season will end in two weeks.
A weekly examination of the Lions' ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 24 | Last Week: 12 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

Detroit had its struggles in the snow against Philadelphia in the second half on Sunday afternoon, but it had little bearing on this week’s Power Rankings. The Lions did not move at all from where they were a week ago, still sitting at No. 12. Unfortunately for Detroit, Power Rankings are just that -- rankings -- and the Lions are in a stickier position when it comes to their playoff hopes.

Their loss to Philadelphia placed them back in the middle of a tight NFC North race. Yes, Detroit still controls its own fate -- win out and the Lions are in the playoffs -- but there is much more pressure involved again. Chicago is tied with Detroit in the NFC North at 7-6 -- and one spot behind the Lions in the Power Rankings -- so if the Lions end up losing any games, they turn into scoreboard watchers and will have to pay closer attention to what the Bears -- and to some extent the Packers -- are doing.
A weekly examination of the Lions' ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 24 | Last Week: 13 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

A 30-point win against a floundering team didn't do much for the Detroit Lions' Power Ranking this week. The Lions did move up, but only jumped up one spot after annihilating the Packers 40-10. That isn't surprising considering the Lions' inconsistent nature. One week, they lose at home to a team under .500. The next, they blow out a team that is in theory still in the playoff picture. Just the way it's been for Detroit this season.

Detroit is the seventh-highest-rated team in the NFC, but really has a chance to make a move up the rankings Sunday if the Lions beat Philadelphia on the road. The Eagles are ranked No. 10. Also, the Lions have now faced the Nos. 8 (Cincinnati), 11 (Dallas), 13 (Arizona) and 15 (Chicago) teams in the Power Rankings, and after playing the Eagles, they take on No. 14 Baltimore the following week.
A weekly examination of the Lions' ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 24 | Last Week: 9 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

After the way Detroit lost on Sunday in Pittsburgh -- with every part of the Lions’ game failing in some form -- there was no way they were going to stay as a top-10 team. If anything, I thought Detroit might drop a little more in this week’s Power Rankings instead of the two spots it fell. Of course, that the Lions fell behind the Bears is also a little bit curious, especially since Detroit swept Chicago this season.

But this range, between ninth and 13th, is probably where Detroit will live the rest of the year. The Lions aren’t quite elite but are certainly better than a majority of teams in the NFL. The question will remain whether that is good enough to earn them a playoff spot six weeks from now. That is just how it is sometimes in the NFL. A week ago, Detroit appeared to be in a comfortable position for a playoff berth. Now the Lions look like they have to win the division to ensure that. Who knows what’ll happen next week?
A weekly examination of the Lions' ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 24 | Last Week: 10 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

The Detroit Lions are in the top 10 for the third straight week, having bumped up a slot to No. 9 and having proved their standing as the team to beat in the NFC North. Detroit has three road wins now and, should the Lions win at Pittsburgh, will be no worse than .500 this year on the road. It’s also the first time this season Detroit is labeled as the top team in the NFC North in the Power Rankings.

The Lions are the fifth-rated team in the NFC, behind Seattle, New Orleans, Carolina and San Francisco. More important, though, if you were to compare this team to Detroit’s last playoff team, the Lions are ranked one slot higher at this point of this season than they were in 2011, when they were No. 10.
A weekly examination of the Lions' ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 24 | Last Week: 10 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

The Lions didn’t move at all during their off weekend -- and they probably shouldn’t have anyway. On the edge of the top 10, Detroit will have ample chances to climb the rankings, starting this weekend at No. 9 Chicago, but for right now this team still has some questions to answer when it comes to its long-term stability within the division.

The Bears are one of two teams that currently have .500 records or better on the remainder of the Lions' schedule; the other is Green Bay. Both have ailing quarterbacks that may or may not be ready to return when the Lions face them. The opportunity is there for Detroit to win the division and finish the season with a sterling record along with a playoff berth, and a win against the Bears would go a ways toward solidifying that.
A weekly examination of the Lions' ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 24 | Last Week: 11 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

After pulling out a win that seemed extremely unlikely on Sunday against Dallas after trailing by 10 points with 6:45 left, the Lions jumped up a spot back into the top 10 at the midway point this season. The ranking is bolstered by Detroit’s ability to win games late this season, something the Lions have not always been able to do. Besides Sunday against Dallas, the Lions came from behind against Cleveland and Minnesota this season. They also held off Washington on the road in Week 3.

Playoff teams are capable of winning games like that. Considering the Lions’ schedule the second half of the season heading into this week’s bye at 5-3, Detroit should be a playoff team this season. The Lions play no teams outside the NFC North with winning records the rest of the year and have their toughest opponent (Green Bay) at home on Thanksgiving. This does set up well for the Lions to potentially make their second playoff appearance in three seasons.
A weekly examination of the Lions’ ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 24 Last Week: 11 ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

A close 27-24 loss on Sunday to Cincinnati, decided on the final play of the game, did nothing to really change the perception of the Detroit Lions in this week’s rankings. The Lions stayed at No. 11 for the second straight week and are still in a good position for making a playoff run during the season's second half.

The potential good news here for the Lions is they have moved up to No. 6 among NFC teams in the rankings, and if they can finish sixth in the NFC standings, they’ll end up in the playoffs.

So why is Detroit at No. 11? Cincinnati exposed some defensive questions about the Lions, specifically their secondary. The Lions also didn’t get all that much defensive line pressure for the second straight week. Offensively, Detroit played fairly well, although the lack of a run game was a slight concern.
A weekly examination of the Lions' ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 24 | Last Week: 12 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

Slow, incremental movement back toward the top 10 -- this is happening in the Lions' power rankings world, and it should be attainable. Detroit is No. 11 this week, up one spot and down one from its season high of No. 10. But there is a large opportunity on Sunday for the Lions. They play the No. 8 team, Cincinnati, and they play the Bengals at Ford Field.

Detroit has said all season that one of its goals is to win all of its home games. If it accomplishes that, it would be no worse than 10-6 this season -- and that should be good enough to clinch a playoff berth. And the Lions have put themselves in this position not at full strength offensively with both Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush battling injuries at points this season.

But Sunday proves to be a big game. If the Lions can knock off another playoff contender, albeit from the AFC, that could show how much potential this team really has.
A weekly examination of the Lions’ ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 24 | Last Week: 10 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

This should not be a surprise. Detroit lost, fairly handily, to Green Bay on Sunday, 22-9. The Calvin Johnson-less offense did not look good and the defense had some breakdowns in the second half on big plays. But when healthy, this is still a good football team. The defense, despite Sunday's struggles, is still second best in the league on third downs and has a very talented front seven. Bill Bentley may have had his best game of the season, including breaking up a touchdown pass in the first half.

The 10-12 region might be where Detroit resides for most of the season. They are a borderline playoff team that should be in the conversation for a berth the rest of the way. They are the No. 6 NFC team in the Power Rankings, but to give you an idea of how difficult the division is, they are No. 3 in the NFC North, just behind No. 10 Chicago and No. 11 Green Bay. It may just be the toughest division in football.
A weekly examination of the Lions’ ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 24 | Last Week: 16 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

Welcome to the top 10, Detroit. The Lions haven’t been here since the last week of the 2011 season -- also the last season Detroit made the playoffs. Since then, Detroit has been as low as 28th (the end of last season) and mostly lived in the middle of the Power Rankings pack.

But a win over Chicago this past weekend gives the Lions an early first-place hold in the NFC North and some confidence heading into Green Bay on Sunday. The thing is, these Lions are appearing more legitimate by the week. They have two big-play threats on offense in Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush, an accurate quarterback in Matthew Stafford and an offensive line that is blocking well for both the running and passing games.

The key has been the Lions' defense. After failing to intercept a pass from Jay Cutler the past two seasons, they picked off the Bears quarterback three times on Sunday. The defensive line also allows for defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham to scheme well in the back seven. Detroit, more and more, looks like a playoff contender.
A weekly examination of the Lions’ ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 24 | Last Week: 18 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

Detroit did something it had never done -- beat Washington on the road -- and for that alone, the Lions deserved a small bump up in the rankings. Sure, the Redskins are struggling and might be among the worst teams in the NFL, now sitting at No. 27. But the win continued a strong start for the Lions, who have shown flashes of strength offensively and defensively this fall.

These rankings, though, were determined before Detroit lost receiver Nate Burleson, the team’s leader in catches, for an indefinite amount of time after breaking his arm. This is a blow to the Lions' receiving corps, which is mostly a young group other than Burleson and Calvin Johnson. It could easily change the dynamic of Detroit’s offense, which is a big reason the Lions are 2-1 heading into a big NFC North game against Chicago.

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