The Lions Are A Legitimate NFC Sleeper

Detroit hasn't lost a game through three weeks and is flashing upside on both sides of the ball

Mike Morbeck, Flickr
  • The Detroit Lions have a 2-0-1 record after beating the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 3.

  • The Lions are guaranteed to have a winning record going into their bye in Week 5.

  • Detroit faces a tough test when the Kansas City Chiefs comes to the Motor City next week.

Expectations Heading into the Season 

The Detroit Lions were the consensus pick to finish at the bottom of the NFC North in the summer. Chicago, Green Bay, and Minnesota were considered the three best teams in the division by a considerable margin, and Detroit had finished in last place in 2018. The Lions had odds of over 10-1 to win the NFC North before the season kicked off, but some of their offseason acquisitions have paid off in a big way.

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Offense Through Three Weeks

Matt Stafford has put up solid numbers through Detroit’s first three games this season. The veteran quarterback has completed 62.6 percent of his passes for 831 yards with six touchdowns and two interceptions. He is averaging a respectable 7.8 yards per pass attempt this season, and he has two great targets in Marvin Jones Jr. and Kenny Golladay. 

Injuries led to Jones only playing nine games in 2018, and that allowed Golladay to develop into a No. 1 receiver. Opposing secondaries have had their hands full with Detroit’s top two receivers, and both Jones and Golladay could surpass the 1,000-yard mark this year. Jones has 15 receptions for 200 yards and a touchdown this year, while Golladay has 14 receptions for 176 yards and two touchdowns.

The offense isn’t even firing on all cylinders yet either. Kerryon Johnson is averaging less than three yards per carry on the year, and first round pick T.J. Hockenson has struggled after a great debut. If Johnson and Hockenson can get going, this offense has the potential to be elite.

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Defense Through Three Weeks

Outside of a defensive collapse in the fourth quarter against Arizona that led to Detroit tying the Cardinals in Week 1, the defense has been solid. They have forced six turnovers through three games, and the defensive line has done a good job of making quarterbacks uncomfortable in the pocket.

Detroit’s defensive line is not posting the traditional havoc numbers that you like to see, but Trey Flowers and Damon Harrison are providing enough pressure to disrupt opponents’ offensive rhythm. The defensive line came up big in Week 3, sacking Carson Wentz three times and registering five quarterback hits in a 27-24 win. 

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X-Factor

The Lions selected T.J. Hockenson with the No. 8 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. It was the quickest a tight end had come off the board since the San Francisco 49ers took Vernon Davis at No. 6 overall in the 2006 NFL Draft, and Hockenson is one of a handful of tight ends to be taken in the top ten in league history.

Hockenson had a fantastic first game against Arizona, but he has just two catches for eight yards in Detroit’s last two games. The Lions are counting on the Iowa product to be the big target the team has lacked since Eric Ebron left at the end of the 2017 season, and if he can emerge as a reliable target over the middle, Stafford will be even more effective.

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Looking Ahead

Detroit is an underdog at home against the Kansas City Chiefs this week. The Lions have their bye the following week and then have a chance to move to the top of the NFC North with consecutive games against Green Bay and Minnesota. Wins in those games would set the Lions apart, and neither one of those teams has been overwhelmingly impressive. The Packers offense is in the bottom half of the league under new head coach Matt LaFleur, and Kirk Cousins is not off to a good start this season. 

Is this finally Detroit’s year?