If you thought that the Detroit Lions had looked good in their first two games but had gotten lucky, now you might have to rethink your stance.
The Lions are one of eight undefeated teams with a record of 2-0-1 (which should’ve really been 3-0) and have played tremendously thus far. They have a very tough schedule coming up, sure. However, beating two playoff teams from last season is a statement that many other NFC contenders, even inside their division, should be aware of.
Because of that schedule, even though still designed for a fourth-place team, it’s difficult to really predict where this team could go in 2019. Rarely have they given their fans the hope they’ve given them this year. But they aren’t in the business of selling hope – the time has come to consider them being close to competing.
Matt Stafford has been very effective and that isn’t something about him that you’ll hear emphasised. You might hear people focusing on his display against the Chargers and the two interceptions despite perfect protection and a lights-out day by rookie receiver Kenny Golloday. But the Lions’ franchise playmaker still has a TD-Int ratio of 6-2, one of the best in the NFL in this early part of the season. His completion percentage is 62.6 but he’s thrown the ball 107 times, 10th-most. He’s been statistically more accurate than Aaron Rodgers, Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston, all of whom have made fewer throws.
Think about it – so many years, ever since Stafford went first overall in the 2009 NFL Draft, he had absolutely no decent support on his offence (except Megatron). Well, now he has at least an average group around him, making the expectations for him to succeed even bigger. His offensive line has been probably the most sensational thing about this team, allowing just three sacks, all of which came in the opener at Arizona. Golloday, T.J. Hockenson and Marvin Jones have all averaged over 10 yards per reception while the latter caught 107 passing yards and a touchdown in Philly.
Each of the three games had a big day by one of the three when it comes to the air game. They’ve been difficult to handle. The disappointing secondaries of the Cardinals and the Eagles may have been a factor there, but imagine the Lions’ offensive ceiling, granted that all three could be consistent and Kerryon Johnson could average more than his 42 yards per game. That better turn to reality sooner rather than later because the contrast of the pocket protection is huge compared to the previous two years and no one knows really how long it can keep it up.
The defence has had its problems. They allowed a late 4th-quarter comeback to Kyler Murray and the Cardinals and, having the Eagles’ wide receiving depth issues, had problems defending the Carson Wentz–Nelson Agholor connection. There is even worse news up next – none of the Lions’ three opponents were among the NFL’s top 10 scoring offensive units.
Very tough tests are coming up for Detroit on both sides on the ball. Next Sunday they welcome the Chiefs, who have the second-highest scoring offence with 33.7 points a game. Then the tables turn – four divisional games against the very tough defences of the Packers and the Bears. The Cowboys have looked very strong as well as. The Giants and the Redskins might be their easiest remaining games. But based on their play so far, those would be must-win match-ups if Detroit wants to live up to its value.
In a year with high stakes, great improvement and solidness, it might be the schedule that keeps the Lions away from their first playoff appearance since 2016. Even in a highly competitive NFC, the Lions have, in three weeks of football, looked like they can both challenge a wildcard spot and the NFC North crown.