COMMENTARY | The Detroit Lions were not on anyone's preseason Super Bowl radar, and yet here they stand at 6-3 through 10 weeks of the NFL season.
Detroit has not always won pretty, but the Lions have found ways to win close football games and be competitive every week. All of those breaks that seemed to go against Detroit in 2012 are now falling in favor of the Honolulu Blue and Silver.
In Week 10, Detroit found itself in Chicago for a pivotal division showdown with the Bears. This was a game where some may have expected to see the "same old Lions." A team that could win the meaningless games, but found ways to lose the critical matchups. Instead, these Lions made key plays when they had to and won by a score of 21-19.
But even after a thoroughly impressive win over the Bears, the question of Detroit's legitimacy lingers. Can this team truly hope to compete for the Lombardi Trophy, or is the battle for a division crown the extent of Detroit's goals?
We know the Lions have an elite passing attack. Matthew Stafford has already thrown for 2,617 yards and 16 touchdowns this season. Calvin Johnson has 821 yards receiving and seven touchdowns, while Brandon Pettigrew is having a resurgent year at the tight end position.
However, Detroit has had a great passing game for a couple years now. What is different about this version of the Lions is its offensive balance. Detroit has a quality rushing attack in the form of Reggie Bush and Joique Bell. Those two backs have 754 rushing yards between them on the season. The Lions are proving capable of sustaining lengthy drives and wearing opposing defenses down.
Detroit is going to have to put that ability to good use should it find itself in the playoffs, because the secondary is going to give up plenty of yards. The Lions rank 26th against the pass in the NFL, allowing 272.5 yards through the air each week. Opposing teams will consistently target the secondary and look to complete passes deep down the field.
The consensus contenders, teams like the Denver Broncos, New Orleans Saints, Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots, all have passing games that can flip the switch and take over at a moments notice.
However, this Lions team may actually be better equipped to face these teams in the playoffs than others because of the dominance of Detroit's defensive front. It is a unit that has been hot and cold all season, but when playing at its highest level there may not be a better front four in football.
Again, it is a large assumption to say that Detroit can sustain strong defensive line play the rest of the way, but guys like Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and Willie Young can get pressure and force quick passes. This ability means that Detroit can keep even the league's most elite passers from having time to drop back and fully analyze the field.
In other words, Detroit is for real. The Lions should obviously not be considered the favorite to win the Super Bowl, but overlooking this type of dynamic team would be a serious mistake. Calvin Johnson is going to provide instant offense at times when Detroit must put points on the board. Reggie Bush is going to stretch the field both horizontally and vertically. Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley are going to wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks.
This all adds up to a team that has a strong hold on the NFC North division and is finding its momentum at the right point in the season. And the thought of Detroit getting a home game in the playoffs and forcing an opponent to play inside of a raucous Ford Field atmosphere is downright scary.
Lions fans shouldn't be booking flights to New York just yet, but keeping an eye on ticket prices isn't a crazy idea.
Nick Kostora lives in Michigan and has covered the Detroit Lions for 4 years. His work has appeared on CNN, the Detroit Free Press, Bleacher Report, Yahoo and more. He is the co-host of Lions Central Radio @LionsCentralPFC
You can follow Nick on Twitter @nickkostora
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