Don't Sleep on The Lions

It's time to face facts: This is a good team with a good defense and a great quarterback.
December 5, 2016, 12:40am
The Detroit Lions are handling the bright lights pret-ty well, thank you very much. Photo by Derick E. Hingle—USA TODAY Sports

It was supposed to be a barnburner, a track meet, a pinball game, a basketball score. The wiseguys thought the Detroit Lions and New Orleans Saints would combine to score 54 points, per, by far the highest over set this week.

It was 3-0 at the end of the first quarter, 13-6 at halftime and the final score was two touchdowns under Vegas' total.

Moreover, it was supposed to be a convincing Saints victory: They were favored by 6.5 points at home, and had just finished hanging 49 points and 555 yards on the league's seventh-best passing defense last week, the Rams. The Lions' pass defense is, let's say, not highly esteemed.

But neither team followed the script:

— Detroit Lions (@Lions) December 4, 2016

The Lions defense, after surrendering huge days to the likes of Brian Hoyer and Case Keenum, has quietly become a tough unit to crack. The Saints are the sixth straight team to score 20 or fewer points on the Lions; if their per-game scoring average over that stretch (16.3) were their season-long figure, the Lions would rank No. 1 in points allowed.

On the other side of the ball, quarterback Matthew Stafford's accuracy and effectiveness has made the Lions' poor running game irrelevant. Stafford completed 71.4 percent of his 42 throws (and was 16-of-17 at halftime). Though Lions tailbacks combined for just 63 yards on 20 attempts, the Lions out-possessed the Saints by almost 14 minutes.

For the first time all year long, the 8-4 Lions won a game by dominating wire to wire. They didn't need a fourth-quarter comeback or game-winning drive, they just kept getting stops and turnovers (they picked off Drew Brees three times). Technically, they also finished their drives, getting points with all five of their red-zone opportunities—but only one of those drives ended in a touchdown.

Against a team that was playing better offensive football—or on day when their defense wasn't playing quite so well—settling for so many field goals would have doomed the Lions. But that's the only qualifier on what's a huge statement win for Stafford and the Lions.

Nobody thought the Lions would be in this position at the beginning of the year, and certainly not after their 1-3 start. But it's time to face facts: This is a good team with a good defense and a great quarterback.

With road games against the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys sandwiched between home divisional games, nothing's guaranteed. But the Lions are now two games clear of the NFC North with four games left to play, and they're playing their best football of the season at the best possible time.