| The Detroit News
Following Sunday’s 23-16 loss to the Carolina Panthers, the Atlanta Falcons fired coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff. It marked the second time during the early stages of the 2020 season that a franchise has cleaned house, following the Houston Texans’ decision to relieve coach/general manager Bill O’Brien from his dual post a week earlier.
Not surprisingly, the swift and decisive actions by the Falcons and Texans has left Detroit Lions fans wondering why owner Sheila Ford Hamp is exhibiting patience where her counterparts aren’t.
And while Ford Hamp hasn’t publicly commented, it easily could boil down to one thing; a win. That’s something Atlanta and Houston didn’t have when they pulled the trigger. And while a lone victory hardly seems significant when looking at the bigger picture, it does give the Lions a pulse in the postseason race, however faint it might seem.
This season is the first with an expanded playoff pool. Even with a 1-3 record, the Lions are only 1.5 games out of playoff contention. And while it might be difficult to envision this team going on a run, seeing they’ve won just once of their past 13 games dating to last season, we must acknowledge the opportunity to climb the standings exists.
And what was ownership’s mandate for coach Matt Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn’s coming into the year? Playoff contention and playing meaningful games in December. Hypothetically, that’s still on the table.
That makes the immediate stretch coming out of the bye critical to both the team’s playoff chances, as well Patricia and Quinn’s hopes of retaining their jobs. Fortunately for all, the schedule couldn’t be setting up much more favorably, starting with his week’s trip to Jacksonville.
Vegas agrees. The Lions open the week as favorites in the battle of large cats.
After opening the season with an upset victory over the Indianapolis Colts, and suffering a narrow loss to the Tennessee Titans in Week 2, the Jaguars have reverted back to preseason exceptions, dropping their past three games by a combined 42 points.
This week is a figurative fork in the road for the Lions. A loss should serve as the final nail in the coffin, while a win could spark a run based on what lies ahead.
Just take a look at Detroit’s next six opponents after the Jaguars.
► Atlanta Falcons (Oct. 25, Atlanta): As mentioned above, the Falcons are winless and will be led interim coach Raheem Morris for this contest. In less than two weeks, it’s doubtful he’ll be able to correct one of the NFL’s worst defenses, which is allowing 32.2 points per game through five contests.
► Indianapolis Colts (Nov. 1, Ford Field): This is shaping up to the be the toughest matchup of the next seven. Defense isn’t a problem for the Colts. The unit ranks first in yardage and second in points allowed. Offensively, they’re closer to the middle of the pack, but 24 points is going to be enough for them to win most weeks.
► Minnesota Vikings (Nov. 8, Minneapolis): It’s unusual to see a Mike Zimmer-led team struggling so mightily to keep their opponents off the scoreboard, but this group is currently allowing more than 30 points per week. They appeared to have made some impressive corrections Sunday night against Seattle, holding the Seahawks scoreless in the first half, only to allow 21 points in the third quarter and a 13-play, 94-yard game-winning drive.
► Washington Football Team (Nov. 15, Ford Field): Like Jacksonville, Washington hasn’t won since Week 1. Additionally, the franchise is currently engaged in a game of quarterback roulette, having benched Dwayne Haskins in favor of Kyle Allen, who was injured in his first start, clearing the path for Alex Smith to make an improbable return to action two years after suffering a horrific leg injury.
Regardless of who is under center, Washington is struggling to score. They’ve averaged 15.5 points during their current four-game losing streak.
► Carolina Panthers (Nov. 22, Charlotte, North Carolina): The Panthers are hot, winners of three straight, and currently hold the final playoff spot in the NFC. Impressively, they’ve done it all without superstar running back Christian McCaffrey, who is sidelined by an ankle injury.
McCaffrey should be back at this point, and the Panthers only seem to be gaining confidence under rookie head coach Matt Rhule.
► Houston Texans (Nov. 26, Ford Field): Detroit closes out the stretch with another rudderless opponent. The Texans did manage to get into the win column in their first game after firing O’Brien, breezing past the Jaguars on Sunday. And as long as Deshaun Watson is running the show, it’s going to be a stiff challenge. Still, this game looks far more winnable now than it did at the start of the season.
This brings the Lions to December. Realistically, to be playing meaningful games down the stretch, the team needs to go 5-2 from now until then. That gets them to 6-5 entering the season’s final month where formidable foes such as Green Bay, Tampa Bay and Tennessee await.
Possible? Sure. Likely? No.