Are the Lions truly close to the playoffs, or is it just another year?

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The Detroit Lions are predicating this whole off season, including the hiring of a former super bowl coach in Jim Caldwell, on the fact that they are playoff ready now. They feel they blew an opportunity to reach the playoffs last season and the blame was firmly laid upon former head coach Jim Schwartz. I believe they are correct about blowing an opportunity last season, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are playoff ready this year.

One of the things the Lions had going for them last year was that superstar Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers missed 7 games last year with a broken collarbone. Keep in mind though, he’s only missed two other games in his career since becoming the starter in 2008, his only losing season. That window is now presumably closed. Rodgers is still relatively young, just 30 years old this season and doesn’t appear to be slowing down at all. Combining his injury with Jay Cutler’s for the Chicago Bears, the division was wide open for the Lions to walk away with. Instead, Detroit stumbled to a 1-6 record and their final week of the season was irrelevant again. They still couldn’t save face in the last game and lost to the weakest team in the NFC north, Minnesota, and finished 7-9.

Yet, the top brass in Detroit still feels this team is ready. Its got arguably two of the best players in the NFL in Calvin Johnson and Ndamukong Suh. The offensive lion was a real surprise last year with major turnover, they ranked seventh in the NFL, fifth in passing. They are young, with the exception of Dominic Raiola at center, and kept Matt Stafford upright most of the season. No small task considering that Stafford has thrown for over 4,600 yards each of the last three seasons, leading the NFL in attempts twice.

When it comes to Stafford though, his completion percentage and interception rate are the reasons for major concern with him. A simple eye test tells any fan that this in part is due to drops by his targets, at times it is just laughable watching the ball drop to the ground. Stafford is a risk taker, and not the most accurate of passers, and as every NFL analyst feels compelled to point out, he needs to work on his fundamentals. It is more than that though. He needs better targets other than Johnson, and those targets need to catch the ball.

The Lions are set at running back. Reggie Bush and Joique Bell compliment each other very well, though both had issues with fumbles in the 2013 season, I would expect that they would both focus on correcting that problem, and in doing so, it’s a position of strength for the team. How many other positions of strength do they have though? Defensive tackle, with Suh and Nick Fairley, when Fairley decides to show up that is, comes to mind. A weak linebacker crew and defensive backfield are eyesores and make the strong defensive line irrelevant if no one is covered. It just got weaker in the secondary too as the Lions were forced to release safety Louis Delmas in a salary cap purging move.

The Lions appear to be built the right way, with strong offensive and defensive lines. It’s typically a recipe for success. I just don’t believe they are strong enough at any of the “skill” positions except for running back to be successful. They are operating under the belief that they belong in the playoffs as division winners and potential contenders. They are salary cap strapped and have the tenth overall pick in the draft with far to many holes to fill. It could be a result of watching the Lions for over thirty years now, skepticism sets in, but I don’t see this team in the playoffs this year, and so yet another year wasted. There is no easy fix for this team, the legacy of Matt Millen continues, and the window to capitalize on the talents of Johnson closes a little tighter.

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