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Are The Detroit Lions Super Bowl Contenders?

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Nick Fairley and the Lions dominated the Bears. How do they rank among the rest of the NFC? Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images.
Nick Fairley and the Lions dominated the Bears. How do they rank among the rest of the NFC? Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images.

We’re just a quarter of the way through the 2013 NFL season, but it is beginning to look like a reality: the Detroit Lions are a legitimate threat to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl in February. Sunday’s victory over the Chicago Bears proved it.

Garbage time touchdowns aside, the Lions dominated the Bears on both sides of the ball. Reggie Bush tore up the celebrated Bears defense for 173 total yards, and was a threat both on the ground and through the air. Matthew Stafford worked well with what Chicago gave him, and had good protection throughout the entire game from his offensive line.

On the defensive side, Ndamukong Suh and friends forced Jay Cutler into three interceptions and a strip sack that Nick Fairley recovered and took into the end zone. Chicago didn’t complete a third down conversion until their last drive of the game. Outside of Matt Forte’s 53-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, the Bears gained just 78 yards on the ground as a team. The secondary kept Brandon Marshall in check, allowing him to get just 79 yards (although Alshon Jeffrey had himself the best game of his career). Cutler was constantly under pressure, and on several occasions was either forced to throw the ball away or hurry a throw.

The Bears offense isn’t exactly like the Broncos, and Jay Cutler is nowhere near as talented as Peyton Manning. But for the Lions to shut down the Bears offense to just 16 points through 55 minutes, and then build a 24-point lead on one of the most prolific defenses in the league, speaks volumes to the fluidity of this team. With Reggie Bush in the lineup, the Lions offense clicks on all cylinders. When the defensive line can get into the backfield, opposing offenses can’t develop a rhythm.

So where do these Lions sit in the conversation of the NFC’s finest?

It’s pretty clear to me that the Seattle Seahawks are the team to beat in the NFC. New Orleans and Chicago are up there too. Their records may not indicate it, but San Francisco and Green Bay are obvious contenders as well.

And then there’s Detroit and their high-flying offense. The Lions offense ranks 4th overall in points per game, 6th in yards per game, 5th in passing yards per game, and the offensive line has allowed just three sacks, best in the NFL. The offense features an elite quarterback, a playmaking running back, and the best wide receiver in the game. When healthy, this unit is as unstoppable as just about any other team in the league.

Defense is a slightly different story—Detroit sits in the middle third of the NFL in yards per game, passing yards per game, rushing yards per game, and points per game. Their turnover margin of +4, however, ranks 7th in the NFL.

So to answer the question posed above: close. At this point, there’s no reason Detroit can’t make the playoffs, and even win the NFC North.

A couple of tests await the Lions before anointing them the best in the conference. The biggest obstacle: Detroit has yet to face an elite quarterback. Just give that a week—the Lions will face Aaron Rodgers and the Packers at Lambeau Field this Sunday. Secondly, the offensive stars must be able to stay healthy throughout most or all of the season. The offense looked stagnant with Bush out of action for a game and a half, so a prolonged absence could be devastating for the Lions hopes. Finally, we need to see if the Lions can avoid giving up big plays on defense. So far, the long touchdown runs by Forte and Adrian Peterson have not hurt the team’s record, but allowing too many 20+ yard runs and long pass plays could be disastrous against better teams.

The Lions still have some kinks to work out, especially on defense, but the offense has proved that it is worthy of top status in the league. Figure out the defensive side of the ball, and this Lions team could wind up in New Jersey in early February. Only five teams have never reached the Super Bowl—the Lions could cut that list down by one this season.