With the departure of future hall of fame wide receiver Calvin Johnson this offseason, nobody expected the Detroit Lions to be anywhere near the top of the NFC North. Somehow, someway they have done it, en route to a 9-5 record.
Currently sitting as the number 3 seed in the NFC, the Lions have a huge divisional match up with the second place Green bay Packers looming next week. While Monday night's game might not mean a whole lot in the standings for Dallas, it is still important to learn everything possible about your next opponent.
So, who are these Lions?
The Lions offense is known for their passing game, with quarterback Matt Stafford playing himself into the league MVP discussion. Wide-out Golden Tate poses a big play threat every time he is targeted, and tight end Eric Ebron has developed into a solid receiver this year.
On the ground, however, they Lions have not found the same success.
The team's leading rusher, Theo Riddick, has totaled just 357 yards this year, while rookie running back Dwayne Washington led the team last week with 31 yards rushing. Riddick is more known for his pass catching abilities, and is a threat coming out of the backfield on pass plays.
The Cowboys run defense has become the best in the league, allowing just 80.9 yards per game. The Lions, well, they have only been able to rush for 81.7 yards per game, 30th in the league. Simply put, the advantage goes to the Cowboys on the ground.
Don't call it a comeback.
The Detroit Lions have set an NFL record this season with eight fourth-quarter comebacks. While owning this record is impressive, and obviously means you've won a lot of games, it also means that you haven't been able to dominate a single opponent yet this season.
On the other hand, the Cowboys ran through most of their opponents this year, including a dominating win over the Lions' bitter rival, the Green Bay Packers, earlier in the season.
The Cowboys are known for getting up on their opponents early, and then trying to simply preserve the lead throughout the rest of the game with their prolific running game. The Lions, however, will pose a threat to their lead at all times.
Middle of the road
Defensively, the Lions fall into the middle of the pack in most categories. Ranking 14th in total yards against, 15th in pass yards against, and 11th in rush yards against, Detroit is not exactly the '85 Bears.
With that being said, they are still formidable defensively, and have some playmakers that can change any game.
Middle linebacker Tahir Whitehead leads the team in tackles with 119, and has become a solid defender and general of the Detroit defense.
In his fourth season out of Mississippi State, cornerback Darius Slay has become a solid player as well. So far, Slay has tallied 2 interceptions and a forced fumble on the season. Up front, the Lions best pass rusher is still Ezekiel Ansah, despite missing multiple games due to injury in 2016.
The final word
When you look at the numbers, it doesn't seem like the Detroit Lions should be a 9-5 team fighting for a first round bye. And yet, here they are.
They are a team which will hang around for three and a half quarters, and then rely on one Matthew Stafford drive or Golden Tate big play to steal them the game. So far, this formula has been successful. But against a better team like the Dallas Cowboys, I don't expect the Lions to find much success.