10 QUESTIONS WITH TWENTYMAN: Breaking down the playoff scenarios

Every week during the regular season Tim Twentyman will answer 10 good questions from his Twitter account @ttwentyman in a feature we call "10 Questions with Twentyman."

20man:There’s a lot to this question, but I’ll try to be as direct as I can with my response.

First off, when you find a good quarterback like Stafford, you hang onto him. The contract Stafford signed was the going rate for a franchise quarterback. That’s just the economics of the business. Fans have to move beyond that.

I’ve been covering this team since 2009, and the best team they’ve had over that stretch was the 2014 team. That was the year the Lions set a franchise record, allowing less than 70 yards per game on the ground. They had the No. 2 defense in the league that year.

When I look at the 12 teams currently in the playoffs, seven of them rank in the top 10 defensively, and 10 are ranked among the top 13 defenses in the league. The only two current playoff teams that rank in the bottom third in defense are Kansas City and New England, but both of those teams make up for it by being a top 5 offensive unit.

And back to the importance of the quarterback, guess who has the No. 1 defense in football? It’s the 5-9 Denver Broncos, who’ve started three different quarterbacks this year.

Minnesota, the NFC North champs, have gotten solid quarterback play, and rank No. 2 overall on defense.

Good quarterback play and solid defense is the best way to success in the NFL, in my opinion.

The Lions have their quarterback situation locked down, now they have to improve their defense (ranked 27th), especially along the front seven. If they do that, and do it consistently, they’ll get over the hump.

20man:The playoff scenarios for Detroit can get complicated, as the Lions don’t control their own fate. As it sits right now, they are the No. 7 seed in the NFC.

The simplest scenario is Detroit gets in if they win out and Atlanta loses their remaining two games against New Orleans and Carolina.

If the Lions win out and the Panthers lose out, and either the Cowboys or Seahawks (who play this week) also get to 10-6 and there’s a three-way tie between those teams, the Lions would earn the Wild Card berth based on multi-team tie-breakers. The Lions need Dallas or Seattle get to 10 wins in this scenario because Caronia owns the head-to-head against Detroit because of their Week 5 win in Detroit.

If the Lions win out and the Saints lose out, and again, either the Cowboys or Seahawks also get to 10-6, and there’s a three-way tie between those teams, the Lions would earn the Wild Card berth based on multi-team tie-breakers. Again, the Lions need Dallas or Seattle get to 10 wins in this scenario because New Orleans owns the head-to-head against Detroit because of their Week 6 win vs. Detroit.

Detroit can get as high as the fifth seed if they win out and the Saints and Panthers lose out, and either Seattle or Dallas gets to 10 wins. Both New Orleans and Carolina would miss the playoffs based on tie-breaking scenarios in that case.

It will be much clearer what needs to happen after Week 16, assuming Detroit takes care of their business in Cincinnati.

20man:Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick are both under contract next season, but I’d be rather shocked if the Lions didn’t bring one or two guys in to compete in their backfield, especially considering how the Lions have gone away from Abdullah at the end of this season.

Riddick will be back, but I think he excels in more of a third-down and pass-catching role. My guess would be GM Bob Quinn looks for a workhorse.

A lot will happen between now and the start of free agency. Some backs will be re-signed by their teams and never reach free agency. Others could see the franchise tag.

It’s not a particularly strong free-agent class outside of Le'Veon Bell. Here are the top running backs scheduled to be free agents next season: Bell, Carlos Hyde, Rex Burkhead, Isaiah Crowell, Eddie Lacy, Shane Vereen and Darren Sproles.

The better route for Detroit is probably via the draft. Last year was one of the best running backs classes in more than a decade, but this class is looking pretty strong as well. Saquon Barkley (Penn State), Derrius Guice (LSU), Bryce Love (Stanford), Ronald Jones II (USC), Josh Adams (Notre Dame), Royce Freeman (Oregon), Damien Harris (Alabama) and Nick Chubb (Georgia) could all come off the board in the first two days.

20man:That will be an interesting offseason question mark. Does Killebrew stay at safety and continue to develop and play in sub packages and multi-safety looks? Or could a position change be in the cards?

I asked Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin last week if Killebrew could make the switch to linebacker. He said he hasn’t even thought about it, even though Killebrew has come down and played a hybrid linebacker role in the dime before.

Killebrew will continue to develop. If he stays at safety, and Diggs remains there too, Killebrew adds depth to the position, gives them sub package flexibility and remains a very good special teams player.

20man:He’s had his ups and his downs, like all rookies. I think the best part about his game has been his instincts in the run game and his physical nature at the point of attack. When Davis hits a ball carrier, said ball carrier knows he’s been hit by Davis. I like that about him.

I think he needs to continue to work on his coverage skills. That’s a weakness of his right now.

Knowing the kind of worker Davis is, I’d expect the latter to improve. All in all, I think he’s had a solid rookie season with 79 tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble.

20man:I think they have a quarterback who is playing at a very high level right now – Stafford’s completed at least 75 percent of his passes in three straight games – and they’re going with the hot hand.

They can’t completely abandon the run, which they haven’t, but they know the situation they’re in. They know they have to win out to give themselves a chance at the postseason. They also know Stafford is their best player, and if they’re going to win or lose, better to do it on the arm of their best player.

20man:I wouldn’t say they’ve been disappointments. I’d say they’ve had to battle through more injuries than the Lions had hoped they would. Both guys have been pretty beat up all season, and have played through a lot of discomfort.

Lang has a positive overall grade by Pro Football Focus, though he does have a negative run-blocking grade. The site grades him as the eighth best right guard in football.

Wagner also has a positive overall grade from the website, though, like Lang, his pass-blocking grade is much higher than his run-blocking grade. Wagner is graded as the fifth best right tackle by PFF.

Being a little disappointed in their run blocking isn’t unreasonable.

As far as the power and counter trey part of your question, you have to have the personnel to run that scheme. I don’t think Detroit does. In my opinion, the Lions lack a big back with speed, who can hit the hole and get through it before it closes, and breaks some tackles along the way.

20man:I’ll take the under. Lang and Wagner are set, at least for another year, at right guard and right tackle.

Graham Glasgow could move over to center permanently with Travis Swanson being a free agent. Left tackle Taylor Decker isn’t going anywhere.

That leaves just left guard. The Lions drafted guard Joe Dahl last year. We’ll see how he finishes this year, but the Lions like him.

They’ll draft and sign depth, but I’d guess that Detroit’s o-line Week 1 next year looks like this: Decker, Dahl, Glasgow, Lang and Wagner.

20man:I thought Lions head coach Jim Caldwell made some interesting comments this week regarding the rookie running back. He said Green is getting a chance to get a good feel for who he is as a runner, and Caldwell made it clear Green was a “big back,” and needed to run more like a back with power.

Riddick was a full participant in practice to start this week, and I’d expect him to start Sunday. I’m guessing he gets the bulk of the snaps and carries. But Green could be the next guy in, and should get his number called on short-yardage and goal-line situations.

He just has to take more advantage of those opportunities, and with that will come more of them.

As far as going up tempo, they’ve shown more and more of it the last couple weeks, especially last week. I’d expect them to continue to mix it in.

20man:Billingsley is still on the practice squad. He’s been passed over for a spot on the 53-man roster by Bradley Marquez and Andy Jones, both players recently signed, who have good size at 6-foot-3 and 6-foot-1, respectively.

The fact that Golden Tate is playing a lot more in the slot now and playing well hurts Billingsley. Because of his size (5-9), that’s really the only spot for him, and he isn’t going to play over Tate. That’s just how it is.

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