The Detroit Lions are 9-4. This isn’t something football fans are accustomed to. The team currently sits in the 2nd seed in the NFC with a chance to have a first-round bye in the playoffs and host a home playoff game for the first time since 1993. It would be the first ever playoff game at Ford Field.
Hopes are high in the Motor City and while some of the team’s wins seemed like a fluke two months ago, the fact that they keep winning means that this team is legit. These wins are coming on the back of some amazing play from the team’s quarterback, Matthew Stafford. He has been playing at an elite, MVP level recently. Leading his team to wins in eight of their last nine games and with eight 4th quarter comebacks on the season. That’s the most since 1950.
With Matthew Stafford playing at this level, the Lions have been competitive in every single game. But during the Lions 20-17 win over the Chicago Bears last Sunday, fans were given cause for concern in regards to their young gunslinger. During the game, Stafford injured his throwing hand and was forced to wear a glove for the rest of the game. He went on to throw two ugly interceptions but ultimately brought his team back from the brink with a late rushing touchdown to take the lead.
After the game, news got considerably worse for the Lions. It is now known that he dislocated his middle finger and that there is ligament damage in the hand. Matthew Stafford will have to wear a glove on his throwing hand for the rest of the season in order to deal with the injury, and will almost certainly need surgery in the offseason. The first reaction is to think that the Lions are now doomed. After all, last time Stafford was forced to wear a glove on his throwing hand was in 2011, and he threw 9 interceptions over the course of 3 games. But I say the Detroit Lions will still be successful for the rest of the season and will be hosting a playoff game in January. Here are a few reason why.
With all of the well-deserved praise being heaped upon Matthew Stafford for his leadership and big play ability this season, the defense hasn’t gotten the credit that they deserve. It has now been seven straight weeks that they have held opposing offenses under 20 points, something the Lions haven’t done since 1961. They seem to come up with huge plays just when the team needs them most.
While big names guys like DeAndre Levy and Ziggy Ansah have struggled with injuries, the unit as a whole has performed very well. The secondary has been especially clutch and have sealed games late with big interceptions on multiple occasions. This defense even went to the Superdome and held Drew Brees without a touchdown, while forcing him into three interceptions.
Teryl Austin, the Lions defensive coordinator deserves a ton of credit for how the defense has performed. After a poor start to the season, he has his guys buying into the scheme and though they do allow a fair amount of yards, they do not let opposing offenses into the end zone. After interviewing for multiple head coaching gigs over the last two offseasons, it seems very likely that he will land a top job this year. But before he departs, he will help this team host a playoff game by keeping his opportunistic defense one step ahead of the opposition.
This is always an underrated unit on any football team, but the Lions have been exceptional all season. Returner, Andre Roberts has not only made several clutch catches with the offense this year but also has two punts returned for touchdowns on the year. He routinely puts the offense in good position to succeed and has cemented his role as the team’s returner. As important as Roberts has been to the offense in the field position game, punter Sam Martin has been very important to the defense. He is a former 5th round pick who has consistently ranked among the best at his position since entering the league in 2013. He only has two punts that have gone for a touchback this year, meaning that more often than not he leaves opposing offenses backed up against their own end zone.
The real star of the Detroit Lions special teams is kicker, Matt Prater. All this guy does is make big kicks. In the last month he has been named NFC Special Teams Player of the week three times. They should just name the award after him at this point. Prater has hit the game-winning kick in four of the Lions nine wins this season and he accounted for 16 points in the Lions 28-13 win over the Saints a few weeks ago. Along with Stafford, Prater is proving that sometimes two Matts equal a win.
Stafford is still the man
It’s clear that Matthew Stafford was at least somewhat limited by his finger injury during Sunday’s win over the Bears. He even admitted as much to his teammates in the huddle by telling them that they were going to have to bear with him, as some of his throws might not be as spot on as they are accustomed to. While it’s true that he will have to play with a glove for the rest of the year and will almost certainly lose a bit of velocity and accuracy, that doesn’t change the fact that Stafford is playing some of the best football of his life.
It didn’t always show in the win over the Bears, but Matthew has improved his decision making greatly this season and because of that the Lions should continue to be a solid team. After throwing an ugly pick-6 he led his team down the field and got them into the end zone to take the lead late. As is the characteristic of any good quarterback, he brushed off his mistake and did what he needed to do. He is the leader of this team and without him they would have very few, if any, wins. He is the man in Detroit and the only one who can lead this team to a playoff birth and a home game.
9-4 is nice but this team’s work is not yet done. They travel to play the Giants on the road this Sunday, followed by a Monday Night Football game in Dallas before they close the season out at home against the red hot Packers. Winning one of these games all but guarantees a playoff birth, while two wins gives them the division and a home playoff game. The real prize is a first round bye and the chance to give Matthew Stafford’s finger a little extra rest. Head Coach Jim Caldwell has gone from offseason hot seat to a potential coach of the year candidate. It seems like everyone else is starting to believe in these Lions but they have always believed in themselves. Especially Matthew Stafford, who seems to have this team on a path with destiny. Messed up finger and all.