Column: Lions’ win streak could prove costly

By Jake Thielen

The Detroit Lions’ 20-13 victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday gave fans plenty to be excited about.

Yes, the team still finished with a losing record, but it ended the season with four consecutive victories.

It was the first time the Lions had won four games in a row since 1999. In the process, the Lions snapped their 19-game losing streak in divisional games and an NFL record 26-game road losing streak.

Certainly, the streak will give Lions’ players and fans confidence heading into next season. For the first time in recent memory, the Lions resembled a team that could challenge for a division title or playoff berth.

Detroit was competitive in every game it played, and the argument could be made that the team could have finished at or above .500 if not for several questionable calls by officials.

Is there anyone who agrees with the ruling that Calvin Johnson “didn’t complete the process” when making a potential game-winning touchdown catch against Chicago in Week 1?

Despite the good feelings that came out of Sunday’s win, it’s possible the team would have benefitted more from a loss. I’m not saying that the team should have lost on purpose, but really what good came from the win?

Detroit still finished with a 6-10 record, which gave the franchise its 10th consecutive losing season. They will still watch the playoffs on TV along with 19 other NFL teams.

Despite all the young talent on the Lions’ roster, the team still has several holes to fill, particularly on defense. The secondary still gives up too many big plays and the depth at linebacker is woefully thin.

This is where the bad news comes in.

With one meaningless win on the season’s last day, the Lions effectively took themselves out of the running for the top prospects in the 2011 NFL Draft.

Had Detroit lost the game to Minnesota, the team would have finished 5-11 and picked sixth in the 2011 Draft. Instead, the win tied them with six other teams at 6-10.

The NFL uses strength of schedule as its tie-breaker for determining draft order, with the team that had the weakest schedule getting the first pick.

The Lions had the most difficult schedule of all the teams that finished 6-10, thus they were awarded the 13th pick.

Remember when it looked like the Lions would have a chance to draft star cornerback Patrick Peterson of LSU and finally solidify a secondary that has ranked among the worst in the NFL in recent years? Well, you can say goodbye to that dream.

Peterson is considered a top-five talent, and while he might have been available with the sixth pick, there is no chance he will be on the board when the Lions make their pick at 13th overall.

The same goes for Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara, who will likely not make it past the Dallas Cowboys or the Houston Texans, two teams also in need of help at defensive back.

Will the Lions still be able to pick up a quality player with the 13th pick? Absolutely, but it likely won’t be a player who could step in and immediately improve a below-average pass defense like Peterson or Amukamara.

Instead, the Lions will likely select the best player available, regardless of position, and turn to free agency to fill needs.

If either of those two players turns out to be the next Darrelle Revis or Nnamdi Asomugha, and the Lions’ secondary struggles again in 2011, will the fans still feel so good about meaningless wins in late December and early January?

More likely, it will seem like just another wasted season for a team that seems like its been in rebuilding mode since 1957.