If, And, But: The Detroit Lions Will Be in the Playoffs in 2013

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The Detroit Lions Are Close to Being a Very Good Team
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Detroit Lions WR Calvin Johnson is one of the most electrifying players in the National Football Lea …

We thought they had restored the roar.

In 2011, the Detroit Lions reached the playoffs for the first time since 1999, which at the time was tied for the longest drought in the league with the Buffalo Bills.

But it once again all came apart for the Men from Motown, who stumbled out of the gate, managed to get to 4-4 and then proceeded to lose their last eight games to finish 4-12.

To make matters worse, the other three teams in the division all won at least 10 games.

Still, hope springs eternal for every team. And it's not like Jim Schwartz's team doesn't have some talent.

Hence, the Detroit Lions will make the playoffs for the second time in three years…

If: The Detroit ground game can become more of a factor. Only the Patriots and Saints gained more total yards than the Lions in 2012. But similar to New Orleans, this was an imbalanced team with the league's 23rd-ranked running attack and the NFL's second-ranked passing game. The addition of free agent running back Reggie Bush (Dolphins), teamed with Mikel Leshoure, should give Detroit a nice 1-2 punch out of the backfield and more options for quarterback Matthew Stafford.

And: Speaking of the Lions' signal-caller, Stafford hopes to rebound from a disappointing season. A year ago, the 2009 first-overall pick threw just 20 touchdown passes compared to 17 interceptions and completed just 59.8 percent of his throws. That was a big difference from 2011, when Stafford connected for 41 scores and was picked off only 16 times while hitting on 63.5 percent of his passes. Of course, when you wind up throwing the football 727 times in a season, you can't assume that's necessarily a good thing.

But: If the Lions can't get their act together on the defensive side of the ball, no offensive improvement will help. This past season, Detroit allowed 437 points, but to be totally fair of the 49 touchdowns given up by the club 10 were via returns (interceptions, fumbles, kickoffs and punts). That still leaves 39 touchdowns allowed. And with pass rush that totaled just 34 sacks and a club that forced only 17 turnovers, the lack of big plays (0 return touchdowns by the team in 2012) hurts. And while Pro Bowl defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh returns, who takes up the slack (or sack) for pass rushing defensive end Cliff Avril (Seahawks)?

So what do you think? Climbing ahead of three teams in your own division with double-digit victories is hardly an enviable task. But in this day and age with sudden surprises and quick disappointments, anything is possible. And the Lions have brought in a few free agents that could make a big difference. But if Schwarz's team falls flat again, what does the future hold for him and this club?

Russell S. Baxter has spent the last 40-plus years watching football. He is the founder of ProFootballGuru.com, writes for numerous websites and publications across the country, can be heard on Yahoo! Sports Radio and many other networks and was blessed with an encyclopedic memory. Ready to talk NFL? Follow him on Twitter at @BaxFootballGuru.

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