That's one of Stafford's major problems at the moment. There are enough talented quarterbacks in the league today that his regression becomes more disconcerting with each passing week. Luck, the first pick in the 2011 draft, took over the worst team in the league and has twice led the Colts to winning seasons. Wilson has emerged as a legitimate MVP candidate after falling to the third round of that same draft. Meanwhile, Stafford, 25, is starting to look very much like another strong-armed quarterback who can't do the little things that consistently lead to victories.
Stafford has escaped such criticism thus far. Shoulder injuries in his first two seasons -- which limited him to a combined 13 games -- forced people to wait and see what he could do when healthy. Stafford also produced a Pro Bowl-worthy season in 2011, when he passed for 5,038 yards and 41 touchdowns and led the Lions to their first postseason appearance since 1999. The past two seasons have wilted much of the optimism that blossomed that year, though. Stafford's passer rating dropped nearly 18 points last season (from 97.2 in 2011 to 79.8 in 2012), and now his game is imploding during what should be another run for a playoff spot.
At one point this season, the Lions had everything working in their favor. Their two rivals in the NFC North, Green Bay and Chicago, lost their starting quarterbacks to injuries when Detroit was sitting atop the division with a 6-3 record. Now, it's hard to think highly of the one game Detroit did win. The Lions enjoyed a 40-10 thumping of the Packers on Thanksgiving, when Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers was standing on the sideline and his offense could muster only 126 yards in that contest.
It's hard to see this season ending well for Detroit. Stafford's play has been so inept lately that he'll probably be a liability in at least one more game on the Lions' schedule. At 7-7, the Lions don't control their own destiny in the playoff race any longer. And, for those who expect the season finale at Minnesota to be an easy win, think again. The Vikings nearly beat Baltimore two weeks ago and blew out Philadelphia this past Sunday.
Instead of worrying about whether the Lions can somehow make the playoffs, it's better to focus on where they're heading in the future. It's been well documented that they haven't had a Pro Bowl quarterback in four decades, and that legacy has surely made it easier for Stafford to excite fans with his skills. But now he finds himself in a place many of his Lions predecessors know too well. He's past the point where people can fantasize about his potential. The only thing that matters is whether there really is more to his game than what he has already shown.