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The Lions began the season 9-4, but have now lost the team’s last two games headed into a winner-takes-the-NFC North showdown with the Packers. Detroit’s success — and failures — have been SOS-related. Detroit’s last two losses came to the two best teams (by record) the Lions have faced all year: the 13-2 Cowboys and 10-5 Giants. And the 9-4 start came with Detroit going 8-1 against teams with a losing record and 1-3 against teams with a winning record. To date, the only wins for the Lions this year against a team with a winning record was a 20-17 home victory over 8-6-1 Washington where Detroit had the ball, down 4, at its own 25, with 1:05 remaining. The Lions have done well by beating bad teams, but if Detroit loses to Green Bay, that unlikely win over the Redskins will be the only impressive win the team has all year.

Eight teams have finished with a winning record, missed the playoffs, and also lost at least their last three games.

  • The final season of Dan Fouts’ career was an odd one. The 1987 Chargers lost their first game, but went 3-0 during the replacement games with Rick Neuheisel and Mike Kelly at quarterback. Then, with Fouts and the regular starters back, the Chargers ran their record to 8-1… before losing their final seven games of the season. San Diego went from 8-1 to eliminated from the playoffs even before the final game of the year, and ended with an 8-7 record.
  • The 1993  Dolphins began 9-2, even though Dan Marino was lost for the season after five games with a torn achilles.  But the 9th win came in the Leon Lett game, and Miami didn’t win another game the rest of the year, while the Cowboys didn’t lose another game that season.  A 5-game losing streak to end the season was particularly painful for the Dolphins, who lost a tiebreaker at 9-7 to two other AFC teams to miss the playoffs.
  • The 2008 Bucs collapsed down the stretch, which resulted in Jon Gruden  losing his job. Tampa Bay began 9-3, but lost their final four games in embarrassing fashion. The Bucs allowed three 4th quarter touchdowns to Carolina to lose 38-23, lost a heartbreaking in overtime to Atlanta, lost by 17 to the Chargers, and then blew a 10-point 4th quarter lead as 10.5-point favorites to the Raiders.
  • The 2002 Saints, 2000 Jets, 1996 Chiefs, 1971 Lions, and 1970 Cardinals all lost their final three games and missed the postseason.  New Orleans, New York, and Kansas City all started 9-4, while Detroit was 7-3-1 and St. Louis was 8-2-1.

Obviously, the Lions wouldn’t set any records for collapsing if they lose to Green Bay and miss the playoffs.  Given the strength of schedule, losing to New York, Dallas, and Green Bay is less about choking and more about facing three of the top teams in the NFC.  And even ignoring strength of schedule, this won’t compare to the ’87 Chargers or ’93 Dolphins.

But what if the Lions lose to Green Bay… and make the playoffs? That happens if Washington loses to the Giants on Sunday.  Now, New York is locked in to the 5 seed, so the Giants could wind up putting forth less than normal effort to win the game.  A Washington loss sends Detroit to the playoffs regardless of what happens in the night game with the Packers.

If Detroit then loses to Green Bay, the Lions would become the 9th team to since 1970 to make the playoffs despite dropping their final three games.

  • The 1986 Jets started 10-1, but finished with five straight losses. In other words, New York played like the ’68 Jets for the first 11 weeks, then like the ’16 Jets for the final five. After a 20-point win in the wild card round, the Jets dropped a heartbreaker in overtime to the Browns.
  • The 1999 Lions started 8-4, but finished 8-8 and still made the playoffs.  Detroit’s last win of the season was against Washington, but the Lions dropped their first playoff game to the Redskins to continue the losing streak.
  • In 2011, both the Texans and Broncos dropped their final three games…. and still won their divisions. Houston finished 10-6, while Denver — yes, under Tim Tebow — won the AFC West at 8-8.  The Broncos, of course, beat Pittsburgh in the first round before getting obliterated by the Patriots in the second round. Houston beat Cincinnati, but then lost to the Ravens in the second round.
  • The 2009 Saints started 13-0…. and finished 13-3, before winning the Super Bowl.
  • The 2001 Raiders started 10-3, the 2000 Vikings began 11-2, and the 1991 Raiders started 9-4.  All three lost their final three games of the year but made the playoffs, with the 2001 Raiders winning their first playoff game before losing in somewhat controversial fashion in the second round of the playoffs.  The 2000 Vikings  had a bye, and won in the division round, before falling 41-0 in the NFC Championship Game to the Giants.  And the ’91 Raiders switched quarterbacks before losing in the first round of the playoffs.

As always, please leave your thoughts in the comments.

  • sacramento gold miners

    I remember those 1987 Chargers, it seemed they won a bunch of tight games enroute to the great start, but age caught up to Dan Fouts. The ’87 replacement team was termed the “Rechargers”. Also forgot the weird collection of notable names who played for different replacement teams. Jim Zorn was a Buccaneer, Steve Bono a Steeler, and Sean Payton(yes, that Sean Payton) saw action with the Bears.

    The 2008 Bucs had a Monday Night game at Carolina when their once-proud defense allowed nearly 300 yards rushing, a figure we rarely see in today’s NFL.

  • Richie

    An update on the Football Perspective challenge:

    It looks like Adam will be the only person to score points. He picked only the Miami Dolphins, and they are in the playoffs.

    2 others have a slim chance. Brad O picked Tampa Bay. They are still alive, but their chances are miniscule. Alejandro picked Tampa Bay and Miami. So if Tampa Bay beats the odds and makes the playoffs, Alejandro is the winner.

    Everybody else picked at least one team that has been eliminated from the playoffs already.

    • Oh crap I’m still in it!?

      Thank the Matterati! (But I root for the Redskins IRL. Oh no…)

    • Wow!

    • Anders

      I made the newbie mistake of naming more than 1 team.