The title is certainly less of an accomplishment that it suggests, but at 5-4, the Lions are in first place in the NFC North after an optimal bye week. The Bears are clearly content to sleepwalk through the remainder of the season, while the Packers and Vikings continue to regress week by week. The result has been a less-than-compelling race where the least mediocre team in the past three weeks has risen to the top. In other words, the Lions have become the leader of the pack mostly by just being there:
During the Lions’ three game win-streak, I mentioned that their rate of luck was unsustainable over an entire season, but now it seems that’s almost a moot point. Instead, let’s take a look at what the Packers and Vikings must continue to do (or not do) for the Lions to make the playoffs.
- Continue playing undisciplined football: The Packers came into the Titans game as the third most penalized team in the NFL, and they were responsible for an additional 12 penalties Sunday afternoon. Granted, the officiating was poor even for a league notorious for inconsistency, but at this point Mike McCarthy must be hearing rumblings from the fanbase about the uncharacteristically poor decision-making his players are exhibiting.
- Face further setbacks with injuries: Clay Matthews was once again out against the Titans, which translated to a big day for DeMarco Murray. Damarious Randall, volatile as he was, would have probably been nice to have on the field as well. Quinten Rollins, Kentrell Brice, and Micah Hyde were each trying to outdo the other in giving up big plays today, and this was against a Titans team that doesn’t have a ton of scary receivers. The Packers are probably a little bit better defensively than recent results have indicated, but it’s clear that they have some very weak personnel that can be targeted.
- Offensive line stay on vacation: It’s honestly astounding to watch an offensive line this terrible in the NFL, especially when the game is on the line. Just about every single lineman lost his battle in the game’s final drive, which led to another Sam Bradford sack on the last play of the game. You have to feel bad for Bradford at this point, who must be wondering whether his personality is causing teammates to want to see him get hit. To his credit, he has continued making good decisions under duress, and the team as a whole still ranks near the top of the league in turnover differential. The o-line is simply negating many of these strengths when the game is close.
- Give up on the run game: This one is very much related to the offensive line as well, but the best thing the Vikings can do (if you’re a Lions fan) is to give up on their formerly formidable running attack. Losing Adrian Peterson hurts, but he wasn’t exactly going to be a world-beater behind this line either. McKinnon and Asiata aren’t the answer (frankly, they showed shades of Zach Zenner today), but with a passing scheme already on shaky legs due to the lack of protection, the Vikings would be making life easy for defensive coordinators if they didn’t at least try to get someone in the backfield involved.
Ten weeks in, the only sure thing about the North division is that each team is far from perfect. An 8-8 record and first-round playoff exit may be the best this group has to offer come January, but Lions fans will gladly take the team’s current trajectory and hope for continued luck in the future. If the Cubs can do it, surely anything is possible?