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There are just six games left for the Detroit Lions to avoid the ignominy of another winless season. Now 0-10-1 after losing a winnable game against the visiting Chicago Bears on Thanksgiving, it’s getting very late in the year to try and break the seal on the win column.
It’s not going to be easy. The Lions will not be favored in any of their remaining six matchups. The teams on the schedule have a combined record of 37-29 and all but one are within a game of a postseason berth.
Here is how the Lions schedule looks for the rest of the season and their chances of winning each game.
Week 13 - Minnesota Vikings
(AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King)
If the first meeting between the Lions and Vikings is any indication, Detroit has a fair chance to pull this one out. Minnesota won at home, 19-17, in Week 5 when kicker Greg Joseph nailed a 54-yard field goal as time expired.
Minnesota plays close games against everyone. Their only outcome that was decided by more than one score came in Week 3, beating Seattle 30-17. Injuries remain a major issue; RB Dalvin Cook is expected to miss Sunday’s matchup and now the Vikings also have some potential COVID-19 issues.
The one thing Detroit does reliably well — running the ball on offense — directly opposes where the Vikings struggle. No team allows more yards per carry than Minnesota (4.8), and the Lions had both D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams top 50 yards on the ground in the first meeting. Even with Swift likely out with a shoulder injury, the general game script favored by Lions head coach Dan Campbell could produce positive results against the Vikings.
Stopping Kirk Cousins throwing the ball to Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen and K.J. Osborne will be the hard part. Cousins is a much worse QB when under pressure, but the Lions defense continues to struggle to generate much pressure even when blitzing.
Chances of victory: 37.5 percent
Week 14 - at Denver Broncos
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Denver is quite the enigma in 2021. It’s best summed up by how they fared in Weeks 9 and 10. The Broncos went into Dallas and dominated Dak Prescott and the Cowboys, only to follow that up by getting scorched at home by the middling Eagles.
The Broncos team that smothered the Cowboys will have no problem with Detroit. When Denver is dialed in on pass defense and not committing penalties or turning the ball over on offense, they’re one of the best teams in the NFL. Broncos fans will lament that their fair team only does that about every third week, but it shows the success when coach Vic Fangio’s team plays to its full potential.
The Denver team that got smoked by the inconsistent Eagles is one the Lions might (might!) be able to play with for four quarters. But even then, it would take the game of the year from Jared Goff at quarterback and Dan Campbell as the play-calling head coach to eke out a win.
Chances of victory: 7.25 percent
Week 15 - Arizona Cardinals
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The Cardinals have the NFL’s best record and they’ve managed to stay there despite playing three games without either QB Kyler Murray or All-Pro WR DeAndre Hopkins. Far better Lions teams have lost badly to far worse Cardinals teams than this one.
Chances of victory: Not zero but pretty darn close to it
Week 16 - at Atlanta Falcons
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The Falcons are a vulnerable adversary, even at home. One of the biggest reasons for hope for Detroit in Atlanta is the Falcons’ completely anemic pass rush. No team has a lower sack percentage or rate of generating pressure than the Falcons. That means Jared Goff should have time to take chances down the field and not rush into mistakes. The Falcons defense allows more points per game than these Lions, too.
Atlanta’s offense has struggled to consistently score points. They also don’t run the ball well and really don’t run the ball well when they have a lead and try to bleed the clock. But they do have a versatile weapon in Cordarrelle Patterson, one who has given the Lions serious issues in his Minnesota past. And in QB Matt Ryan, Atlanta has a veteran passer and leader who can smartly exploit holes.
Turnovers will be critical in this one. The Falcons rank near the bottom of the NFL at minus-7 in turnover differential, with the Lions in the lower middle at minus-1. If the Lions can go plus-1 or better, they’re got a real shot at winning in Atlanta. Easier said than done, of course…
Chances for victory: 40 percent
Week 17 - at Seattle Seahawks
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The Seahawks collapse finally got some national airtime on Monday night, when a seemingly uncoordinated Seattle team lost to the Washington Football Team. It’s a total team effort that has produced the most losses of any season of the Pete Carroll era in Seattle, with a full third of the season still to play.
Russell Wilson is clearly not right since his finger surgery. Their offense isn’t good at anything, ranking 25th in rushing, 26th in passing and 26th in scoring despite having impressive weapons like WRs DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. Seattle isn’t even good at kicking, with a made FG percentage under 70 (the Lions are at 81.5%).
If there’s a team on the schedule that this Lions offense can outscore, it’s Seattle. Now consider the Seahawks allow the most yards per game of any team in the NFL. With uncertainty surrounding the fates of both Carroll as the head coach and Wilson at quarterback, the Seahawks have the trappings of a team that could be resolved to just getting their miserably disappointing season over with. Then again, they could show pride and not be the team that loses to the (hypothetically) winless Lions.
Chances of victory: 49.5 percent
Week 18 - Green Bay Packers
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This one is pretty simple. If the Packers still need to win this game to seize the No. 1 seed in the NFC or feel compelled to play their starters for a significant portion of the game, they’ll absolutely come out victorious. Guaranteed “L” for the Lions even at home, put it in the books.
The Packers could wrap up the NFC North as early as Week 14. They’re a half-game behind the Cardinals for the No. 1 seed, which is the only playoff team that gets a bye week in the new postseason format. If the Packers are already locked into their postseason slot entering this game, be it the top seed or the No. 3 spot, it’s a lot more likely that Aaron Rodgers, Davante Adams and some key defensive regulars sit out. Then — and only then — do the Lions have any chance, and it’s still not a great one.
Chances of victory: 0.0 percent if the Packers try to win, 25 percent if they rest key players