After the Lions’ 21-19 win over the Chicago Bears on Sunday, they found themselves alone atop the NFC North with a 6-3 overall record and 3-1 in the division.
The Bears and Packers are at 5-4 while the Vikings are 2-7.
While there’s plenty of football to be played this season, the chances of the Lions making a trip to the playoffs increase with each win.
Here are five reasons to be confident that the Lions will make it to the playoffs:
1. The offense is performing like a well-oiled machine. Matthew Stafford is playing the most consistent football of his career. Calvin Johnson is not Calvin, he’s Megatron. And Reggie Bush has changed everything — for the better. Bush had 14 carries for 105 hard-fought yards at Soldier Field on Sunday. That’s 7.5 yards per carry, that’s excellent. (In comparison Chicago’s Matt Forte had 17 carries for 33 yards, a 1.9 yard average.) Part of the reason is the solid play of the offensive line which now features two rookies — RG Larry Warford and RT LaAdrian Waddle. Sunday the offense scored on its opening drive for the first time all season. They didn’t pile on the yards on Sunday, but they had just enough.
2. The rule in football is that one player is injured, the next must step up. It’s a good idea, but just doesn’t always work. The Lions have made it work in their receiving game missing Nate Burleson for six games and losing Ryan Broyles for the season. Kris Durham has stepped up and they’ve added wide receivers Jeremy Ross and Kevin Ogletree. They’ll get Burleson back sooner rather than later and the offense will be better with him on the field. Through the first three games he was the No. 2. receiver.
3. Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh is playing lights out. It was his tip that sent the ball into the hands of DeAndre Levy for a key interception in the end zone. He’s still playing brutal football — he sacked Jay Cutler once although it was negated by a Willie Young face-mask penalty. He also pressure Cutler all day. He has to stay out of trouble, stay focused and he’ll finish with his best season in Detroit. Now if he could just get Nick Fairley to be more consistent. He made a play that saved the win when the Bears were going for the two-point conversion but he also had a roughing-the-passer penalty late in the fourth which just plain stupid. Speaking of the defensive line, Willie Young is having a career season. It’s like he has ball radar.
4. The play-calling has been aggressive and it has worked. The Lions went for a fourth-and-1 from Chicago’s 31-yard line instead of attempting a 46-yard field goal. Also down the stretch they didn’t tuck the ball and run, he had Stafford throwing all the way. This kind of play calling can lead to mistakes and Stafford did throw an interception. But more often it gives the offense a better chance to win the game.
5. DeAndre Levy, Stephen Tulloch and the other linebackers probably don’t get enough credit for what they’ve done this season. Levy caught his fifth interception on Sunday. That matches his total number of receptions in his first four seasons. He’s grown from his experience.