Allen Park – The temperatures are plummeting, it’s getting dark earlier and earlier, and the sky is gray during the day more often than not. Oh, and the Detroit Lions are playing meaningless football in December.
Welcome to your version of seasonal depression.
The Lions travel to Arizona to face the Cardinals this weekend and I’m struggling to provide you with a reason to care about the game. According to ESPN’s Football Power Index, this week’s matchup earns a score of 2.7 out of 100.
And it’s probably not going to be any more compelling when the Lions head back on the road next week to battle the Buffalo Bills.
The 4-8 Lions are bad. Worse than just about anyone could have expected when the team hired Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia to replace Jim Caldwell and elevate the franchise from the hamster wheel of mediocrity to a true contender.
The New York Jets did everything they could to warn you this was on the horizon. After back-to-back 5-11 campaigns, the Jets came to town for the season opener with a rookie quarterback and smashed the Lions in prime time for the world to see.
But Detroit, as the team is wont to do, managed to temporarily raise expectations in the middle of the year with three wins in four games, including impressive victories over the Patriots and Packers.
Yet instead of steadily improving as the season carried on, which Patricia hammered home as the expected fruits of his intensive offseason conditioning program, the Lions have stumbled into the home stretch losers in five of the last six, including four defeats by double-digits.
And what’s more, not only is the team bad, it’s boring.
Go ahead, pull up the roster. Tell me who you can’t wait to see on Sundays.
This week's Lions-Cardinals game has NFL Draft implications. Justin Rogers and John Niyo break the game down and talk about Detroit's offseason needs. Justin Rogers, The Detroit News
Matthew Stafford and Darius Slay are having down years, with the franchise quarterback producing too many turnovers and the All-Pro cornerback not producing enough. Ziggy Ansah, who is likely playing his last few games in the Honolulu blue, wasn’t healthy when it mattered. Glover Quin looks like a shell of the productive playmaker he’s been the past five years and Marvin Jones is on injured reserve.
The football gods are being downright cruel with rookie running back Kerryon Johnson's knee injury, which will sideline him a third consecutive game and potentially the rest of the season. He was the season's bright spot, a true reason to tune in each week.
Meanwhile, the front office and coaching staff, despite insisting they didn’t want to copy the Patriots culture they were groomed in, have done exactly that. Patricia seems incapable of providing any meaningful answers, opting for tired coaching clichés about needing to work harder, as if work ethic and not talent is what holding this franchise back.
And general manager Bob Quinn has excused himself from commenting on anything since the draft, despite swinging a pair of huge midseason trades, as his roster construction and coaching hire fall far short of generating the anticipated results.
So as we enter this dreary stretch run, you can count the players who are playing well on one hand. Three of them are interior defensive linemen, which makes for a good foundation going forward, but isn't enough to generate immediate interest.
Therefore, unless your Sunday is worth waiting for one big catch from Kenny Golladay or one big hit delivered by defensive back Quandre Diggs, maybe you’re better served by finishing your Christmas shopping or heading down to Little Caesars Arena to catch the significantly more interesting Detroit Pistons, who are hosting the Pelicans and All-Pro big man Anthony Davis.
It’s unfortunate, and troubling, the Lions are back in this position. It was par for the course the first decade of this millennium, until the team broke its drought with a playoff berth in 2011. And while no one was confusing the Lions for a Super Bowl contender three of the past four years, the postseason was in play.
Now, we’re back to a point where the offseason is the highlight of the season. And this game against the Cardinals, if nothing else, has all kinds of ramifications it that department. Sunday’s loser will put themselves in prime position to secure a top-five draft pick. Yay!
Trust me, no one in the building has that mentality – every player and coach wants to win these final four games, whether it’s to secure future employment or strictly for pride.
But the outlook can be different for fans. It’s an uneasy conflict, when playoff hopes fade and the NFL rewards failure in draft equity, but when looking big-picture, especially if we are to believe the previous season has no bearing on the next, losses are more valuable than wins for the Lions right now.
Whether you’re cheering for the Lions to right the ship before the New Year, or to tank and secure the best draft pick they can, you’re not wrong. But that doesn’t mean you have to tune in on Sunday to watch what is shaping up to be a boring game between two bad teams.
Find something better to do with your time and check back in January, when Quinn finally talks, and hopefully offers some insight into how he’s going to fix this mess he has on his hands.
Lions vs. Cardinals
Kickoff: Sunday, 4:25 p.m., State Farm Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.
TV/radio: Fox/WJR 760
Records: Lions 4-8, Cardinals 3-9
Line: Lions by 3