Detroit Lions almost made playoffs, but which Detroit team is truly closest?

Detroit Free Press

Free Press sports columnists Carlos Monarrez and Shawn Windsor debate about almost everything, especially for their podcast, “Free Press Sports with Carlos & Shawn.” They’ve seen a lot of Detroit sports in recent years, which means they’ve seen … a lot of rebuilding. Here, the guys discuss what, if anything, fans around here have to look forward to.

SHAWN: Hey Carlos, now that the first weekend of the NFL playoffs is in the books and Detroit Lions fans have (hopefully) survived the pain of their team’s absence from them, it’s time to talk about the Super Bowl run they’re obviously making next fall and winter.

Or we could just talk about the draft, a January tradition for Lions fans. Too soon? Fine. Let’s let the fan base bask in the almost-playoff-berth a while longer.

But since we’re on the subject of your favorite team, I’d like to take you back a year or so when we were considering who among the Lions, Red Wings, Pistons and Tigers was closest to making a playoff push. (Hint, we all thought the Detroit Tigers.)

CARLOS MONARREZ:Does Ben Johnson’s return mean fortune is finally smiling on Lions?

As for the Lions, if I remember correctly, they came in dead last. They’d won three games. Who were we to argue with history?

Then the fall happened. Dan Campbell happened. Ben Johnson happened — and apparently is still happening. Jared Goff happened. Lambeau Field happened. You were there, watching the Lions put a bow on their first winning record in six years.

So, in that spirit, I’d like to ask you again to consider which team is closest to a playoff push? Which team is furthest? And why?

CARLOS: First, on behalf of all our treasured Free Press readers, let me offer my condolences to you, Shawn. I know you had your finger hovering over the “buy” button for your first-class Delta ticket to San Francisco before the Seahawks killed your dreams of reaching Double-Secret Delta Titanium status.

So I understand your concern. You want to know which team to pin your playoff travel hopes on. Hey, we all root for different reasons, my man.

Good point about the Tigers’ 2021 hype. But that was a different circumstance. The Tigers were only the “closest” to making the playoffs among Detroit’s four teams, but not close per se.

The Lions are actually close, without any qualifiers. They’ll be every pundit’s preseason playoff darling, and for good reason. Heck, even if Johnson had left, I still would have picked the Lions to be the closest, with some reservations, to make the playoffs next season as a wild-card at the very least.

SHAWN: Such optimism my friend! Are you feeling ok? As for first-class tickets, I know it’s a heavy burden to look at the world and envy. (Hey, if the Brits can make up their own syntax then so can I.)

Your point on the Lions is a good one. The Lions are the leader in the clubhouse, to borrow a cliché from your favorite sport.

However, I think the Tigers are the closest because they hired a 35-year-old general manager and everyone knows that the youngsters in baseball — or any ball — are the key to parades. Let’s face it my friend, we’re old, and so are Brad Holmes, Troy Weaver and Steve Yzerman, at least by Scott Harris standards, and the world is made for young people.


I sound like you now. Thanks a lot.

Seriously though, and I can’t believe I’m typing these words: I agree with you. I think the Lions are top this list of potential playoff teams and the Red Wings aren’t that far behind. They won’t make the playoffs this season in a loaded Eastern Conference but they are clearly better this season and have promising young pieces.

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Speaking of promising, are you tired of that word yet as it relates to our teams? Because I’m not sure how promising the Pistons and Tigers are at the moment.

Who do you have after the Lions?

CARLOS: Let’s get something straight. Jai alai has zero clichés. If you denigrate my sport again, I’ll whip that pelota at your cabeza. OK, mi hermano?

As for proper “syntax,” I can never tell if you’re using the Oxford English Dictionary to sound urbane or the Urban Dictionary to up your street cred. But keep at it. To use your favorite word from the Windsorian dictionary, you’re doing “fine.”

As for the runner-up favorite to make the playoffs, I know how much you and your hairline ache for the glory days of your youth and therefore celebrate all shiny, new things. But Scott Harris hasn’t proved anything yet, beyond his ability to sign Cal State Fullerton pitching excellence in the form of Michael Lorenzen and to finally shrink Comerica Park, which was one of our biggest stadium blunders since the Big House halo. (R.I.P. Halo, 1998-1999)

Indeed, the next team on the playoff horizon must be the Wings. You know the Wings, Shawn. They’re that team that plays that game you never watch in a city that’s known as, what was it again? Oh, yes. Hockeytown.

The Wings have the best structure in place with a proven GM and a coach, Derek Lalonde, who has a strong focus on what he wants, namely sound puck management on both sides of the ice.

If the Wings weren’t having goalies issues and could play better overall defense, they’d be in the thick of the playoff chase right now. I’m betting the defense takes another step next season and the Wings grant you you’re wish of your first road playoff game since 2016.

If I’m allowed to ask a question, here’s my question for you, question man. Since Dan Campbell is now the official coach of Detroit, who is the second-best coach/manager among the other three teams?

SHAWN: Ah yes, my brother, syntax is a mysterious word that faded from usage when indoor plumbing came around and no one knows what it meant anyway. Forgive me for remembering what Mrs. Smith taught me in fifth grade; not that I remember much.

I do remember, though, that you’ve been to a few hockey games the last few years and now you’re running The Hockey News as a guest editor.

I, too, think the Wings are next up. As for them not playing defense? It’s a new world out there on the ice with all that skill and puck possession and Yzerman seems to have a bead on it.

(Here is what he said on the state of hockey in early December.)

As for who’s the next best coach after Campbell? History tells us A.J. Hinch. He manages the Tigers, if you didn’t know. And he won a World Series in Houston. He also speaks in declarative sentences and can be very serious in his comportment, so you know he’s good.

Dwane Casey was named NBA Coach of the Year the year he got fired from Toronto, which tells us something about the conflicted state of the Pistons’ fan base regarding him.

Again, his past tells us he’s a good coach, and a couple of his youngsters — Killian Hayes, Isaiah Stewart — are showing real improvement. Lalonde is new to the Detroit rebuilding party but, as you noted, he seems to have a plan and his Wings look more organized, especially offensively.

LOOKING AHEAD:Pistons’ season now defined by ‘Race for Wemby,’ NBA draft lottery positioning

The lesson here, other than remembering it’s always best to give you the last word, is that a year ago we thought the Tigers were the closest to relevancy. Now it’s the Lions. Who’s going to surprise us a year from now?

CARLOS: I’ll tell you who won’t surprise us in a year. It’s the dude who uses words like comportment. (Editor, please insert a face palm emoji here for me and a virtual or real face slap for Mr. Windsor, who is as upper crust as his name suggests.)

Look, a subscription to the Free Press is a wonderful deal. But I’m not sure we can give away telling the future at that low, low price. Aw, what the heck? We’re all friends here. Let’s do it.

If you want to go off the sheer premise of surprise, it has to be the Pistons. They’re such a trainwreck right now because of Cade Cunningham’s injury, which might set his and the team’s development back longer than anyone can imagine.

But in the NBA, things are just a lottery pick away from turning around. If the Pistons get the top pick for the second time in three years, things could turn around faster than you can learn how to spell Victor Wembanyama. And since it’s easier than ever to make the NBA playoffs, thanks to the play-in tournament, it’s logically easier for the Pistons to surprise us with a playoff appearance or at least a late-season run at one.

The Tigers have so many questions about their roster with an almost entirely new front-office in charge that it’s almost impossible to fathom much a surprise from the team — except that they did exactly that two seasons ago under the same manager. And success by the Wings next year really wouldn’t be much of a surprise to anyone.

That leaves us with another year to wait and wonder about all these teams. Pitchers and catchers report to spring training in less than a month. We’ll see if the Wings can make a playoff push in March. Cunningham is supposed to be ready for training camp. And the Lions will enter next season with enormous expectations. I can’t wait to see how it all shapes up, almost as much as I want to see how Mr. Windsor applies his syntax.

Contact Shawn Windsor: 313-222-6487 or Follow him on Twitter@shawnwindsor. Contact Carlos Monarrez: Follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.

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