The Detroit Lions ended a two-game losing streak on Sunday to keep themselves in the playoff hunt.
Can a narrow win over the Washington Football Team spark the Lions to a winning streak?
As the Carolina Panthers await the Lions in Week 11, what does Detroit need to do in order to make something of the 2020 NFL season?
Here are four things that need to happen in order for the Lions to turn the season around.
(Odds last updated at 2 p.m. EST on Saturday, Nov. 21. Many lines were off the board throughout the week because of the injury uncertainty surrounding Carolina running back Christian McCaffrey and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, along with Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford.)
|Lions at Panthers Week 11 odds||BetMGM||DraftKings||FanDuel||PointsBet||William Hill|
(-110 juice unless noted)
|DET -2.5 -105|
CAR +2.5 -115
(-110 juice unless noted)
FanDuel Sportsbook opened with a 2.5-point spread in Carolina’s favor on Monday afternoon. A few hours later, it was down to 1.5.
DraftKings Sportsbook finally opened on Tuesday at Carolina -1.5.
FanDuel finally posted an over/under on Thursday morning, which was 48 points.
When news broke Thursday that Bridgewater would likely miss the game, the line flipped to 1.5 points in favor of the Lions.
By Friday, the Lions were favored by 2.5 points, flipping the original spread from Tuesday.
The news from Friday that Lions running back D’Andre Swift would miss the game did not impact the DraftKings and FanDuel lines, which stayed at 2.5 points, favoring Detroit.
1. It all starts with QB Matthew Stafford
Not surprisingly, the Lions success tends to be associated with the play of their quarterback, Matthew Stafford.
In Sunday’s 30-27 win over Washington, the team’s first home victory in 385 days, Stafford threw for 276 yards and three touchdowns without an interception.
That moved Detroit to 4-5 on the season, two games out of the seventh playoff spot.
Over Detroit’s four wins, Stafford has seven touchdown passes with just one interception. In the losses, Stafford has six interceptions and a lost fumble.
The 2020 season is a big one for Stafford. His current contract runs through 2022, but if Detroit was able to trade him, it would clear up $14 million in cap space for the team. If the trade is after June 1, 2021, the dead money of the contract would be just $13 million.
If Stafford wants to prove he is still the man to lead the Lions, he has to lead Detroit on a winning streak. To do that, he has to avoid poor turnovers and be more consistent.
Currently, Stafford ranks just 17th in the NFL for QBR in the 2020 season (66.4).
2. Unleash D’Andre Swift
The Detroit Lions decided to use a second-round NFL Draft pick on D’Andre Swift last April.
Detroit has been a bit slow to work Swift into the starting role, partly due to an injury during training camp.
The Lions have been increasing the workload with Swift in recent weeks, even giving him his first start in Sunday’s win over Washington.
Swift has looked good with ample opportunities. On Sunday he rushed for 81 yards on 16 carries while catching five passes for 68 yards and a touchdown.
In the win against the Jaguars on Oct. 18, Swift rushed for 116 yards on just 14 carries and had two touchdowns. In the three games he has received over 10 carries, Swift is averaging over 6 yards per carry.
Swift’s ability to catch out of the backfield is a big strength as well. He has 31 receptions for 275 yards in 2020, averaging nearly 9 yards per reception.
Veteran Adrian Peterson is averaging just 3.8 yards per carry in 2020 and struggles with pass-catching.
A team that has struggled so much to establish the run since Barry Sanders retired, it seems like a no-brainer for Swift to be the featured back.
3. Improve the pass rush, improve the defense
One of the great mysteries of the Detroit Lions is how their defense can be so poor under Matt Patricia.
The former defensive coordinator of the New England Patriots was expected to bring a unique defense to the Lions that would compliment an already strong offense.
The opposite has happened.
The Lions have been awful defensively in Patricia’s three years. Detroit currently ranks 29th in points allowed (29.7 per game), 30th in rushing defense (141.6 ypg) and 24th in pass defense (258.4 ypg). Last season, Detroit ranked last in pass defense (284.4 ypg).
Part of the reason for the Lions’ defensive struggles is their lack of pressure. In 2019, the Lions blitzed on just 18% of plays, which was 30th in the NFL.
In Sunday’s win, the Lions started getting to Alex Smith of Washington, hitting him eight times while sacking him twice. That pressure led to a 24-3 lead early in the second half.
Of Detroit’s four wins, they have hit the QB at least five times in three of them. Romeo Okwara is the lone player to consistently get pressure. He has six of the team’s 13 sacks in 2020.
This Sunday, the Lions face the Panthers, who have QB Teddy Bridgewater dealing with a knee injury. If he is unable to play, P.J. Walker is likely to get the start. Pressure on either man will be key.
4. Detroit Lions need to finish games
The Detroit Lions have led in every game but one this season, yet are just 4-5.
In three of their losses, the Lions held a double-digit lead and were unable to hold on to it.
Even in Sunday’s win against Washington, the Lions led 24-3 and found themselves tied 24-24 with 16 seconds remaining in regulation.
The Lions have given up rallies of 20 points or more in five games this season.
Coming into the 2020 season, Detroit promoted “Dagger Time,” a way to emphasize finishing games. Instead, they have been the recipients of the daggers.
Only against Jacksonville did the Lions establish a lead early and hold it throughout. Unsurprisingly, that was also the game that saw the Lions rush for 180 yards and hold the Jags to just 44 rushing yards.
Detroit has to find ways to put offensive drives together with the lead and consistently establish a run game. Creating third-and-long and hoping Stafford can make magic happen isn’t a reliable strategy.