Wednesday Breakfast with Tim & Mike: Will the Lions make a playoff run?

Posted Nov 7, 2012

Tim and Mike discuss the chances of a Lions playoff run in the second half of the season, starting with Sunday at Minnesota.

What kind of shape are the Lions in for a playoff run, starting with Sunday's road game against the Vikings?

Mike: They've played their most consistent ball in the last four games, and things have come together on offense, defense and -- most importantly -- special teams in every area except returns. But where they might get help is injuries -- to the Vikings and Packers, whom they play the next week at Ford  Field.

A Vikings source says it is highly unlikely that Percy Harvin will play because of a bad ankle. He burned the Lions on a kickoff return for a touchdown in their first game at Ford Field. Nose tackle Letroy Guion could be missing because of turf toe.

Green Bay's injury list is even longer. Charles Woodson and Greg Jennings won't be back. Clay Matthews is likely to be missing because of another hamstring injury. So will Brian Bulaga, who might have a season-ending hip injury.

Of course, the Packers have Aaron Rodgers, and that erases a lot of problems. But having so many quality, Pro  Bowl caliber, players missing helps the Lions.

What do you see?

Tim: It’s nice to be talking about someone else’s injury problems for a change.

I think the loss of Harvin is huge for the Vikings. It’s going to allow the Lions to really commit to the run and stopping Adrian Peterson and make quarterback Christian Ponder beat them. He’s proven over the last few weeks that he hasn’t been able to do that.

The Packers are banged up, but that’s still a tough game. Aaron Rodgers in the best quarterback in the game and has 25 touchdowns to five interceptions without the benefit of having Greg Jennings for most of the season and Jordy Nelson the last couple weeks. Let’s not forget the Packers will be coming off their bye week. McCarthy with two weeks to prepare can be scary.

The Lions should beat the Vikings, but I’m not marking one down in the win column vs. the Packers just yet, even with all those injuries.

What is the magic number for the playoffs? Do the Lions have to get to 9 or 10 wins?

Mike: The magic number is 9 -- not nine wins for a 9-7 record, rather Matthew Stafford's jersey number. The whole team feeds off the way he plays, and he's led the team masterfully in the last five quarters to beat Seattle with two fourth-quarter TD drives and in the last game against Jacksonville. The stat that shows how well Stafford has directed the offense is third-down conversions: 20-of-28 in the two games combined. That keeps drives going, gives the defense some rest, and obviously keeps the other team's offense off the field.

It's no surprise that Stafford is playing well. He led them to the playoffs last year, and he has a chance to do it again.

Tim: Stafford is going to continue to need help, though.

The run game keeps getting better every week and that's been a nice piece to the offense of late. Players like Brandon Pettigrew, Ryan Broyles and Titus Young have stepped up the last couple weeks, too. As good as Matthew is, he can’t do it by himself.

I think the defense is going to be key down the stretch. We saw last year how it became the Achilles heel.

If I told you before the season that after the eight games the defense would have yet to start the same secondary in any two games and have 20 starts from their backups, there’s no way possible they could be the No. 7 ranked defense at the midway point. If the Lions are going to get to nine wins and make a playoff run, they’re going to have to continue to get good production from their defense. Some of the elite offenses in the league are coming up on the schedule.

It doesn’t matter if Stafford throws for 520 yards and five touchdowns if the other guy throws for six (remember Green Bay last season).

Who’s the Lions MVP through the midway point of the season?

Mike: You can give it to Stafford and Calvin Johnson every year, but I'll change it up and give two votes. On offense, it's a five-way tie for first: the offensive line. Make it six, adding rookie Riley Reiff. The line has protected Stafford and opened the way for the running game. On defense, my pick is Chris Houston. He has taken care of his corner of the defense week after week on a secondary that has made injury adjustments all season.

Feel free to disagree.

Tim: You must have read my article from last week when I called Houston my early season MVP. I beat you to it, Mike.

Offensively, I like where you went with the offensive line. Those guys have been good all season. I’d still give it to Johnson, though. He’s been banged up all year -- more than people probably realize -- and still has four 100-yard games. I know he has only one touchdown, but how many touchdowns is he responsible for others getting because of how teams attack him? I think modest estimates would be around eight, including what he does for the run game around the goal line.

How do you see Sunday shaking out, Mike?

Mike: The formula isn't that hard to figure -- keep Adrian Peterson in check, no breakdowns on special teams, and play efficiently on offense without turnovers. I like the Lions to make it three straight and get above .500  -- for Ford Field to rock with the Packers in town for the next game like it hasn't done since the Lions beat the Chargers to clinch a playoff berth last year.

Tim: No breakdowns on special teams. No breakdown on special teams. Did I mention the Lions can’t have any breakdowns on special teams. The Lions handed the Vikings that Week 4 win on a silver platter with those two return touchdowns. The Vikings had 100 yards passing in that game and didn’t score an offensive touchdown.

Their defense is good – not great – so the Lions need to simply keep playing the way they have been the last two weeks.

The Lions at 5-4 with the Packers coming to town, that sounds like a fun day at Ford Field.