The Lions have two more opportunities this season, starting Sunday in Seattle, to play good football, finish strong and build some momentum heading into a very important second offseason for head coach Dan Campbell and general manager Brad Holmes.
A team is only as good as its record says, and having only two wins this season would indicate Holmes and Campbell have a lot of work to do, but looking at the roster, it's not as devoid of talent as the record would indicate.
There are three areas in particular where Holmes and company should feel really good about heading into the offseason.
1. Offensive line
This has been the strength of the team all year, and that's a credit to Campbell and offensive line coach Hank Fraley, because they've suffered a ton of injuries upfront. Left tackle Taylor Decker missed the first half of the season due to a hand/finger injury, and the Lions haven't had Pro Bowl center Frank Ragnow since Week 4. Different players have come in and out of the lineup, but the results have pretty much stayed the same.
From Holmes' perspective, the starting five of Decker, Jonah Jackson, Ragnow, Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Penei Sewell are under contract for at least another two years. That's stability. Key backup tackle Matt Nelson is an exclusive rights free agent, which means he can be back if the team wants.
Backup center Evan Brown and backup tackle Will Holden are scheduled to be free agents. They have played well enough be re-signed, if another team doesn't look to sign them first.
The Lions have been able to consistently run the ball all season. Their 1,602 rushing yards rank 16th in the NFL (it's been a long time since they've been that high), and their 4.5 yards per attempt rank in the top 10. They protect well in the passing game, and overall, they are just a really solid unit upfront and should be even better next year as Sewell enters year two and Pro Bowl alternate Jackson enters year three.
2. Running back
Detroit's had to shuffle different players in and out of the lineup at running back due to injury and COVID-19, but that has highlighted the team's depth at the position.
We all know how dynamic D'Andre Swift can be. He's one of the best dual-threat backs in the league.
Veteran Jamaal Williams came over from Green Bay and has been the heart of that room all year. He's a tough, physical runner that brings energy every day in practice. He's averaging 4.2 yards per carry on the year and is a nice 1B complement to Swift.
Craig Reynolds had been a standout on the practice field all year, and when Swift (injured shoulder) and Williams (COVID-19) missed two games at the same time, Reynolds stepped in and ran for 195 yards in those contests. The Lions recently signed him to the active roster.
Godwin Igwebuike (despite the recent fumbles) and rookie Jermar Jefferson have also shown themselves to be very capable when given opportunities. Overall, it's a deep, versatile group that is all signed through next season.
This is one of those spots where injury has really opened up opportunity, and players given a chance to shine have mostly done so. Credit the job defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn and defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant have done with this group.
Let's start with Amani Oruwariye, who had a breakout season in his third year. Unfortunately his season ended three games short due to a thumb injury, but he still recorded six interceptions and had 11 passes defended. He was Detroit's most consistent and top performing corner all year. He's shown he can be a legit No. 1 cornerback in this league. His rookie deal extends through next season.
Jeff Okudah injured his Achilles Week 1, but he should be back in time for next season. He had a terrific training camp, and the hope is he comes back hungry, healthy and ready to step back into a starting role.
Undrafted rookies AJ Parker (nickel) and Jerry Jacobs were two of the most pleasant surprises on the roster this year. Parker won the starting nickel job out of camp and has played well there all season.
Jacobs, who unfortunately tore his ACL in Denver a few weeks back, turned out to be a great signing for Holmes after the draft. He's physical and tough, and played with a tenacity Glenn really likes. It's unfortunate about the knee, but the hope is Jacobs is ready to get back on the field by next September.
View photos of the starters for the Seattle Seahawks.
Rookie Ifeatu Melifonwu, Detroit's third-round pick this year, has shown flashes through a mostly injury-filled first season in Detroit. He spent a large chunk of the season on IR with a thigh injury, but has an opportunity these last two weeks to impress.
Then there's safety turned cornerback Will Harris. He's been a jack-of-all-trades for the Lions playing safety, nickel (when Parker missed a few games) and outside cornerback. He's handled the cornerback transition pretty well. Could that be a permanent move for him moving forward?
Could a late first round or second-round cornerback draft pick this year beat out a healthy Okudah or Jacobs on the outside. I'm not so sure. That speaks to the position the Lions are in at cornerback.
Honorable mention: Quarterback
Since Campbell took over play calling after the bye, tight ends coach Ben Johnson has been more involved in the passing game, and Detroit's receivers have kind of settled into their roles the last month, we've seen much more consistent play from quarterback Jared Goff.
He's had a couple really nice performances this month (Minnesota and Arizona), and he seems much more comfortable with Campbell in his ear.
He's found a security blanket pass catcher in Amon-Ra St. Brown, and Josh Reynolds has provided a much needed vertical threat. He hasn't had Swift or Pro Bowl tight end T.J. Hockenson much over the last month, but is still making plays.
Next season will still go a long way to determining his long-term future with the franchise, but the way he's played over the last month has to be really encouraging for Lions fans.