NFL power rankings: Where do Detroit Lions sit among league’s vast middle class?

Detroit Free Press

Dave Birkett
| Detroit Free Press

This happens to a certain extent every year, but it struck me how perfectly imbalanced the NFL is when I was putting together my Week 8 power rankings Monday night.

The Detroit Lions, as we’ve seen this season — and for most of my 11 years covering the team for the Free Press — are neither one of the few best teams in the NFL nor one of the few worst.

[ How the Lions suddenly rewrote the script on a hopeless 2020 season ]

They are decidedly mediocre, and for the league’s working class, whether you pay taxes in the lowest bracket of mediocrity (6-10 and fire your coach), the highest (10-6 and sniff the playoffs) or somewhere in between (8-8 and draft in the teens) is typically determined by two things: Injuries and schedule.

Last year, the Lions had an inordinate amount of injuries and went 3-12-1. This year, they’ve stayed relatively healthy and matched their 2019 win total last week.

As for the schedule, well, look at the rankings.

Two of the Lions’ three losses have come against teams in the top seven of my rankings, and two of their three wins have come against teams in the bottom seven. They have about the same amount of games left against NFL indigents (Houston, Washington and Minnesota twice) as they do Super Bowl contenders (the Packers, Titans and Buccaneers), and that means games like Sunday’s matchup with the equally mediocre Indianapolis Colts will have a huge impact on the bottom line.

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Win enough of these so-so showdowns and you have a chance at the playoffs. Lose too many of them and 6-10 awaits.

I’ve covered the Lions long enough to know they probably have a win against a pretty good team in them still, and probably a loss against a team they have no business losing to, too. That’s how the NFL works.

But the Colts, Carolina Panthers (maybe; I do wonder about their staying power) and Chicago Bears are part of the NFL’s vast middle class, and if the Lions can navigate games against those teams — they’ve already lost once to Chicago — the playoffs could be in store.

So while Steelers-Ravens is far and away the best game on the Week 8 schedule, with two of the NFL’s top three teams squaring off in a division showdown, both those teams should be playoff-bound no matter what transpires on the field.

That makes Lions-Colts even more meaningful, in a twisted way.

This week’s rankings

1. Chiefs (6-1)

2. Steelers (6-0)

3. Ravens (5-1)

4. Packers (5-1)

5. Seahawks (5-1)

6. Titans (5-1)

7. Saints (4-2)

8. Buccaneers (5-2)

9. Cardinals (5-2)

10. Rams (5-2)

11. Bills (5-2)

12. Browns (5-2)

13. Bears (5-2)

14. Raiders (3-3)

15. Colts (4-2)

16. Dolphins (3-3)

17. 49ers (4-3)

18. Panthers (3-4)

19. Lions (3-3)

20. Chargers (2-4)

21. Patriots (2-4)

22. Eagles (2-4-1)

23. Washington (2-5)

24. Broncos (2-4)

25. Texans (1-6)

26. Falcons (1-6)

27. Cowboys (2-5)

28. Bengals (1-5-1)

29. Vikings (1-5)

30. Giants (1-6)

31. Jaguars (1-6)

32. Jets (0-7)

Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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