The Detroit Lions have not played meaningful football this late into the season since 2017. Detroit missed the playoffs that season after a late-season loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. But back then, the Lions were at least expected to be in the mix.
These days, that hasn’t been the case. Expecting the Lions to be anywhere near the playoffs is just asking to be disappointed. And yet, here we are. Detroit sits with a 6-7 record and ninth in the NFC.
All of this comes after an abysmal 1-6 start to the year. The Lions were doing their typical Lion thing, playing below their potential and disappointing fans. They struggled with injuries and inconsistencies as questions around head coach Dan Campbell began to mount.
Those questions are now a thing of the past. Detroit has won five of their last six games, and are staring down a rather favorable schedule, even if it contains two division rivals.
How did we get here? How are we talking about the Detroit Lions as potential playoff contenders as we near the turning of the calendar. Here are three players most responsible for this incredible turnaround.
3 Lions most responsible for shocking playoff push
3) Safety Kerby Joseph
In a way, Kerby Joseph sparked this turnaround back against the Green Bay Packers in Week 9. He picked off Aaron Rodgers twice as Detroit won the first of three straight before Thanksgiving.
Two weeks later, Joseph had another interception, this time against the New York Giants. This past Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings, he recovered a crucial fumble near the end of the first half to prevent the Vikings from scoring.
There have been some bumps in the road. He didn’t receive great PFF grades in Week 10 or on Sunday. He still makes rookie mistakes. However, when he’s on, he has proven to be one of Detroit’s best playmakers in the secondary.
2) Edge rusher aidan hutchinson
It took a little bit for Hutchinson to really find his grove in the NFL. The second overall pick had a three-sack game against the Washington Commanders in Week 2. Outside of that, however, he had been quiet.
The Michigan native followed in Joseph’s footsteps in Week 9, picking off Aaron Rodgers on the goalline. Against the Giants, he dropped back into coverage again and picked off Daniel Jones.
Hutchinson also recovered a fumble in the Giants game. He recorded the game-winning sack against the Chicago Bears in Week 10, and has had at least half a sack in back-to-back games. If it weren’t for fellow rookie standout James Houston, Hutchinson would have had two against the Vikings.
Now, the Lions pass rusher leads rookie pass rushers with seven sacks. And he is firmly in the conversation for Defensive Rookie of the Year. More importantly, his play has the Lions firmly in the playoff conversation.
1) Quarterback Jared Goff
Many were baffled when reports emerged on Sunday that the Lions were planning on keeping Goff past this season. However, there is merit to Detroit’s commitment to the former Los Angeles Ram.
There is no quarterback in the league with more touchdowns at home than Goff. In his last five games, the 28-year-old signal-caller has thrown eight touchdowns and no interceptions.
The last interception Goff threw came against the Packers in Week 9. That was also the last time Goff threw for less than 150 yards in a game. He’s posted back-to-back 330+ yard performances.
The biggest change for the Lions quarterback is his ability to throw the ball deep. On Sunday, Goff went 10/12 on passes 10+ yards downfield, gaining 203 yards and striking for two touchdowns in the process.
The Lions quarterback is clearly gaining confidence. And his play reflects this growing confidence. This team isn’t in this position without Goff playing this well. It may be good enough for him to stick around in the Motor City.