Lions close to being playoff team

Only 24 years old, Matthew Stafford still has lots of potential to improve. Howard Smith/US Presswire

On Dec. 2, we saw a microcosm of the 2012 season for the Detroit Lions. They had a 12-point lead late in the fourth quarter, had outgained the Colts on the day, and simply needed a late first down or a late stop. Of course, the Lions couldn't get one, the Colts passed their way to one score, and then Andrew Luck led a final drive in which Indy scored on the last play of the game. I rewatched the game this week, and was startled by how often the Lions were able to hit Luck. They hit him 13 times in the game -- yet still they couldn't finish the job.

It keeps a pretty sad trend alive.

Going into Sunday's game against Green Bay, the Lions have lost four straight games, and they have dropped the last three by blowing a lead in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter. According to Elias, they're just the second team in NFL history to lose three straight games in which they led in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter. Think about that -- if the Lions could have finished better the past three weeks, they'd be 7-5.

And look at some other games. There was the OT loss in Tennessee; there was the game in which they outplayed the Bears on "Monday Night Football" and turned it over four times while in position to score, and lost by six; there was the ridiculously bad call on Thanksgiving that helped them lose to Houston. So you have a team that has outgained opponents by more than 750 yards through 12 games, and statistically is a better fit for the profile of a .500 team, and it could finish 6-10. Detroit in 2012 exemplifies how small the difference can be between a playoff team and a team that looks as if it was never close.

And as I review the Lions, I see a team that should be back in the playoffs next year if it can apply a few fixes.