The Detroit Lions returned to the playoffs in the 2016 season, but their campaign ended in the wildcard round with a defeat at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks.
The NFC North outfit had secured a post-season berth in the 2014 term, only to suffer a first-round exit against the Dallas Cowboys before missing the playoffs completely in 2015.
However, Jim Caldwell’s men restocked their roster and were able to compete to a high standard, despite the surprising retirement of future Hall-of-Fame receiver Calvin Johnson.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford raised the level of his game without the presence of his favourite target, developing strong connections with Golden Tate and Eric Ebron to drive his side to the playoffs.
However, when it came to crux of the season against quality outfits, the Lions were unable to get over the line, suffering a hammering at the hands of Seattle on the road in the wildcard round.
Caldwell’s men made progress, but will need to make significant improvements in order to make a deeper surge into the post-season next term.
Late Shows Define Early Season
The Lions were involved in some of the most exciting matches in the 2016 season, beginning with their win over the Indianapolis Colts on the opening day. Stafford and the offense led their side into a comfortable lead, only for their opponents to stage a remarkable comeback to tie the game in the fourth quarter.
Theo Riddick handed the visitors the lead, but a missed extra-point allowed Jack Doyle to put the Colts ahead with just 37 seconds remaining. Detroit held their nerve at the vital moment with Matt Prater sending a kick through the posts before a penalty on TY Hilton secured a 39-35 victory.
Close matches would be the story of the first half of the term, with the Tennessee Titans turning the tables on the Lions to snatch victory in the final seconds, while the Green Bay Packers held off a second-half comeback from Caldwell’s men after a horrific first half allowed them to take control.
The Lions inflicted the first defeat of the campaign on the Philadelphia Eagles, with Darius Slay intercepting Carson Wentz late in the game to secure a one-point win. The offense came to the rescue against the Los Angeles Rams as Stafford connected with Tate for a touchdown before Prater delivered the win with a 34-yard field goal late with a minute left.
Caldwell’s men suffered their worst defeat of the season against the Houston Texans, allowing Brock Osweiler to put 20 points on the board in seven-point loss. However, they bounced back with another battling performance to overcome the Minnesota Vikings on the road in overtime with Tate and Stafford combining for a late score.
Charge Halted By Late Defeats
At 5-4 the Lions were well placed to win their first divisional crown since 1993 and their inaugural NFC North title due to the struggles of the Packers and the Vikings. However, they were forced to come from behind once again against the Jacksonville Jaguars, with Ebron scoring a fourth-quarter touchdown before Prater iced the game late on.
The Lions kicker was again at centre stage against the Vikings – first to level the match with a 48-yarder and a Slay interception allowed him to secure the 16-13 win from 40 yards.
Detroit finally put in a dominant performance, brushing aside the New Orleans Saints with ease to notch their fourth win on the bounce. Stafford bested Drew Brees with a two-touchdown display to put his side on course for the playoffs.
They were back to their old ways again after falling behind the Bears at home, but Stafford dug his team out of the hole late in the fourth quarter, atoning for a pick-six with a seven-yard run to clinch the victory.
It was the club’s ninth win of the term, but unfortunately for them it would be their last. The New York Giants’ defense shut down Stafford and company, limiting the Lions to just six points. Despite a strong showing in the first half against the Dallas Cowboys, Jason Garrett’s men pulled away in the second half to secure a commanding win.
The Lions still had the opportunity to win the NFC North by beating the Packers on the final day. However, a resurgent Rodgers had too much quality for them, sending Detroit for a showdown against Seattle. Their trip to CenturyLink Field was over before it began as the Seahawks produced a dominating performance to end their season.
One of the most pressing needs for the Lions in the off-season is a quality running back to alleviate the pressure on Stafford. With several talented options in the draft – that could be the way to go down – with veterans Riddick and Ameer Abdullah already on the roster.
Although, Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles remain on the open market and could make sense to bolster Detroit’s offense with their fine respective individual records in the league.
General manager Bob Quinn has made a point of strengthening the offensive and defensive lines, with a big money moves for Rick Wagner and TJ Lang to protect Stafford. Akeem Spence and Cornelius Washington will add power to the defense.
Detroit need to become a better outfit in the running game on both offense and defense, and those moves should support a further addition of a man behind Stafford in the backfield.
The club lost some veteran leadership on the defensive side of the ball when DeAndre Levy was released. The 30-year-old’s injury problems prompted the decision, failing to live up to the promise that he had displayed in 2014 when he was named a second-team All-Pro.
Zach Cunningham out of Vanderbilt would be an intriguing player to replace him, offering the same speed and versatility, although they may have to move up in the draft to snag his signature. Fortunately for the club there are not many holes, but they will want to see improvements from players on the roster to push further into the playoffs.
The Lions are considered an outsider to win the NFC Conference next season with TopBet sportsbook, being backed at +3000 to clinch the George Halas trophy. The club’s history could be counting against them as there is enough talent on their roster to achieve the feat, but breaking the psychological barrier could be the decisive factor.
It has been 24 years since Detroit have even won a division crown and 25 years since the club last won a playoff game. As a result, the pressure on the players was substantial, especially down the stretch last term, resulting in their four defeats on the spin.
However, the cycle has to break some time and as previously mentioned they appear to have the players to at least maintain a strong challenge in the NFC, who have a strong record of sending a different team to the Super Bowl each season unlike the New England Patriots’ dominance of the AFC. Therefore there is no reason why they cannot get over the hump, starting next term.
Detroit Lions To Win NFC Conference
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- Detroit Lions
- Matt Stafford