Detroit Lions fans will point to Sunday’s loss in Cincinnati as the biggest reason why the Lions will be home watching the playoffs in two weeks.
But looking back over the last 15 games, one thing jumps out to me more than anything else. Against teams that are in the playoffs, or are still in the hunt for the playoffs, the Lions went 1-6 this year. Their only win was Week 4 in Minnesota. They lost to Atlanta, Carolina, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Minnesota (the second time they played) and Baltimore. Four of those games – Atlanta, Carolina, Pittsburgh and Minnesota – were at Ford Field.
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Conversely, the Lions are 7-1 this season against teams with losing records. They can make that 8-1 by beating Green Bay Sunday at Ford Field. The only loss coming last Sunday against the Bengals (6-9).
Up until last week, the Lions had beaten the teams they were favored to beat, but couldn’t get enough of the quality wins against the league's better opponents that make up a respectable playoff resume. That’s really been the biggest issue this entire season.
In the seven games against teams that could still be playing in two weeks, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford completed 60 percent of his passes for an average of 283 yards per game with nine touchdowns (1.3 average per game) and five interceptions. His passer rating in those contests is 85.7.
In the eight games against teams with sub-.500 records, Stafford’s completed 71 percent of his passes for an average of 268 yards per game with 17 touchdowns (2.1 average per game) and five interceptions. His passer rating in those contests is 108.8
It makes sense Stafford’s had more success against weaker teams -- there’s a reason those teams’ records are what they are -- but the point here is that his performance, and the performance of the whole team, has to find a way to elevate against better competition.
Stafford has had little to no run game to support him all season long. The Lions rank last in the NFL in rushing. The defense has been widely inconsistent and ranks 27th.
That’s a lot of pressure to put on Stafford, but looking around the conference at quarterbacks on playoff teams, like the Drew Brees’, Matt Ryan’s, Cam Newton’s, Russell Wilson’s and Case Keenum's of the world, they’ve all had at least three wins this season against teams with a winning record.
Brees’ passer rating is actually better against teams with a winning record (101.8) than it is against inferior opponents (99.1). That’s part of the reason why he’s a Hall of Famer.
Newton is 5-4 against winning teams this season, and his passer rating against those teams vs. losing teams is a difference of just five-tenths of a point.
Wilson’s passer rating vs. playoff contending teams is 92.5. He’s 3-4 on the year against those teams. He’s 6-2 vs. non-playoff teams with a 96.6 passer rating. Not much difference in the passer rating department.
Ryan’s numbers are similar to Stafford’s. He has a 103.4 rating vs. non-playoff teams. It’s 81.6 vs. contending teams. But again, he’s managed to help orchestrate three wins against playoff-caliber teams, which is why Atlanta is still playing for something this week.
Keenum is 4-3 against winning teams and 7-0 against non-playoff teams.
All of those teams have different strengths and weaknesses, and varying levels of support they can provide the quarterback position. But the QB is ultimately critiqued on wins and losses, whatever they may look like.
Lions head coach Jim Caldwell said it best Tuesday when he said this Lions team at 8-7 is “probably just above average.”
If the Lions are going to be better than that moving forward, the defense, the run game and even the quarterback have to be better against the league’s better competition. If they aren’t, they’ll continue to be just better than average.
Here’s a look at some other key stats – good and bad – after 16 weeks of football.
- Three Lions offensive linemen were charged with five total pressures each in last week’s game in Cincinnati, per Pro Football Focus. Guards Joe Dahl and Don Barclay allowed five hurries on 40 pass-blocking snaps, while right tackle Corey Robinson was pegged with a sack and four hurries. Center Graham Glasgow was the only lineman not charged with a pressure.
- With one game remaining, Stafford leads all active quarterbacks in third-down passing with a 110.6 passer rating. Stafford’s thrown 12 touchdowns and just one interception on third down.
- There have been 80 100-yard rushing performances in the NFL through 15 weeks. The Lions and Seahawks are the only two teams this season that haven’t had a rusher reach 100 yards.
- Who’s been clutch in the fourth quarter for Stafford this season? Receiver Golden Tate is third in the NFL with 27 receptions in the final 15 minutes of games.
- Detroit ranks eighth in the NFL with a turnover differential of plus-six.
- Stafford’s highest passer rating (105.9) comes out of four and five receiver sets. His passer rating is 98.7 in two-receiver sets and 89.4 in three-receiver sets.
- Adding together quarterback knockdowns and hurries, Anthony Zettel leads Detroit with 34.5. That ranks tied for 42nd in the NFL.
- The Lions are just 1-of-9 going for it on fourth down this season. Their 11.1 conversion percentage is the lowest in the NFL.