the detroit lions’ toughest opponent this season: the detroit lions.

Right now, legions of Lions fans are busy making plans to purchase new TVs tomorrow. That’s because they all threw a brick through their fancy HDTVs today in disgust as the Lions collapsed in the second half of their opening-round playoff game, losing on the road to the Dallas Romos. It was a sometimes frustrating game to watch for Detroit fans because they truly were good enough to win today. But they are not great enough.

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Good, but not great
The Detroit Lions collapse today has almost nothing to do with the game itself. Look back at their season and you’ll notice some disturbing trends for an 11-5 team. Sure. On its surface, 11-5 looks impressive. It is impressive…for a second-tier NFL team. But look at those 11 wins. Do any of them stand out? Sure, they beat the Packers in Week 3. That’s impressive. But not when your record vs. playoff opponents is 1-4…and one of those losses was in Week 17 and decided the division championship, home field and a bye in the playoffs. Signature wins vs. crushing defeats. That’s the difference between good teams like Detroit and great teams like the Packers.

Signature wins
Each great team has them. Whether it’s a playoff victory, Super Bowl victory or a big win vs. a championship-caliber team on the road, these constitute signature wins. It’s what separates good QBs from great QBs. It’s what separates good teams from great teams. And therein lies Detroit’s problem: they have no signature wins this season. None.

I already pointed out they’re 1-4 vs. playoff teams this year. That means they’re 10-1 vs the rest of their opponents…only one of which posted a winning record this year. And that one opponent is the Buffalo Bills, who beat Detroit in Week 5. So that means 10 out of 11 Lions wins were against teams who finished the season with losing or .500 record. The Lions’ record this year vs. teams with winning records? 1-4. Well, 1-5, now that they lost to the Cowboys. Bottom line: elite teams have more quality wins than one.

None of this makes a snatching-defeat-from-the-jaws-of-victory loss in the playoffs any less bitter a pill to swallow, but it should provide a little reality about just how strong these Lions really are, right now: Good, but not great. Their toughest opponent remains themselves.

Baby steps
Matthew Stafford looked closer to a true leader this season than any previous. The Lions also made a big jump over last year by winning the close games. Truth is, these Lions could’ve and probably should’ve had at least 10 wins and made the playoffs in 2013, but they stumbled down the stretch. Given that they went from a 7-9 season to 11-5 and challenging for the division crown is evidence of progress. Sure, progress is never fast enough for the fans, but at least appreciate the baby steps Detroit is taking.

Do you honestly believe the Lions are on par with the Packers and Seahawks right now? Because had Detroit won today, guess where’d they’d be playing next week: the place where they haven’t won in 24 years and counting.

Yes, Lions fans are hungry for a playoff win. But until the Lions prove during the regular season that they’re ready to run with the big dogs, don’t bet on it. These Lions this season were good enough to beat the Dallas Cowboys. It would’ve been a signature win for the Lions, but the Cowboys are not the Seahawks.

The good news is the Lions have a foundation. They can improve, adapt and build on this season. It was a heartbreaking way to see it end, but let’s hope it provides some motivation to get over the hump in the regular season. If not, then Ford Field will continue to sit, dormant and empty, in January.

The right baby steps can change that.

We hope.

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