Any realistic chance the Detroit Lions had of making the playoffs went out the window months ago. Now, the Lions want other teams to feel their plight.
Lions coach Dan Campbell said Monday his message to his winless team coming back from a long Thanksgiving weekend was to try and play spoiler over the final six weeks of the season.
“We’ve got six to go and we’re playing spoiler now,” Campbell said. “We’re trying to ruin people’s day is what we’re trying to do. And so, how do we improve on the things that we’ve done a good job of and make it a little bit better? And then certainly the things that continue to show up, how do we help? But I think now it’s all about how do we make these last six opponents kind of have to deal with what we’ve dealt with for the season? That’s the message.”
The Lions (0-10-1) need one win in their final six games to avoid becoming the first franchise in modern NFL history to go winless twice during the regular season.
But rather than put pressure on his young team to avoid that infamy, Campbell is more focused on fouling up his opponents’ plans.
Five of the Lions’ final six opponents are the playoff mix, and this week’s opponent, the Minnesota Vikings (5-6), currently hold the seventh seed in a tight NFC playoff race.
Along with the Vikings, the Lions play the Denver Broncos, Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons, Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers to close the season.
The Cardinals (9-2) and Packers (9-3) have the best records in football and are vying for the No. 1 seed in the NFC and a first-round bye, while the Broncos and Falcons are currently in eighth place in their respective conferences. Both would miss the postseason if the playoff started today based on tie-beakers.
The Seahawks (3-7) have the second-worst record in the NFC.
“I’ve been here for three years and obviously each year it’s been the same thing at the end of the year is to spoil someone’s season,” Lions tight end T.J. Hockenson said. “That’s great, but on the same hand, I want to win a few games and I don’t really care what it is or what I’m doing. I just want to win a few games.”
The Lions, the only winless team in the NFL, have lost three games on field goals as time expired this season, including to the Vikings, 19-17, in Week 5.
Last week, the Chicago Bears beat the Lions on a last-second field goal, 16-14. That marked the third straight game the Lions have held their opponent under 17 points, their longest stretch since 2016.
Campbell said the Lions have made strides defensively creating turnovers and in the red zone since the bye week, which has contributed to their improved play.
In the past three games, they have six takeaways and have allowed touchdowns on only four of their opponents’ eight trips to the red zone.
“That was the fastest way for us to improve our defense and we’ve done that and it’s shown up and it’s one of the reasons why we’re limiting opponents to where we have, no more than 16 points in three games,” Campbell said. “To be able to just kind of highlight that and work at it and improve on it is giving us a chance.”
Offensively, the Lions have not scored 20 points in a game since Week 1 and rank 30th in the league in scoring. Campbell said the details of the pass game must improve for the Lions to make good on their quest to play spoiler going forward.
“Just being a competitor each week you want to go in and win a game,” Hockenson said. “I don’t really care whose season it is or whose season it ends, at that same point, but I want to win every game. I want to go through each week and know that we have a shot to win and not only have a shot but then follow through in the last quarter.”
Hockenson, who played his college football at Iowa, predicted his alma matter would win a low-scoring game against Michigan in Saturday’s Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis.
“Knowing Iowa, it’s going to be time of possession, we’re going to win that,” Hockenson said. “We’re going to win the line of scrimmage, so I would say, 21-17, Iowa.”
The Wolverines, winners of three straight, have never played in a Big Ten title game. Iowa (10-2) last played in the game in 2015, Hockenson’s senior year of high school.
“Go Hawks, baby,” Hockenson said.