Lions roaring, NFL power rankings and more


Before the season, the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers were the NFC North favorites? Now, it’s all about the Detroit Lions.

Motown is alive. The Lions, who have not won a playoff game since beating Steve Beuerlein and the Dallas Cowboys in the 1991 NFC Divisional round, are looking to erase that misery with broad brush strokes.

Detroit is indeed painting a masterpiece of a season in the most unusual of ways. The Lions are 7-4 after winning on a last-second Matt Prater field goal on Thanksgiving, beating the Minnesota Vikings. Minnesota, which the Lions swept in games they won on the last play of the respective games, sits 6-5. Behind them, the Green Bay Packers at a disappointing 4-6.

With five games remaining on its schedule, Detroit is rolling toward a playoff berth. The Lions will likely win the division by going 3-2, unless you see the Vikings running the table. The docket for Detroit includes the Saints on the road, Bears at home, a trip to the Giants and Cowboys, and then a home date with the Packers in Week 17.

It would be a stunner if the Lions don’t get to 10 games, something that would be the NFC North crown and a playoff game at home for the first time since the Barry Sanders era. Detroit might not be the caliber of the Cowboys or the Seahawks, but it would be very dangerous in a win-or-go-home scenario.

The Lions are getting a tremendous season out of Matthew Stafford, a former first-round pick living up to his potential. Without the security blanket of Calvin Johnson, Stafford has thrown for 2,883 yards and 19 touchdowns, putting himself squarely in the Most Valuable Player conversation.

Making the numbers even more impressive is the lack of a supporting run game. Detroit is averaging 3.7 yards per carry and the leading rusher, Theo Riddick, has 355 yards and a touchdown. Teams are ready to stop Stafford, and none can do it. The Lions have thrived with a pair of pass-catchers in Marvin Jones and Golden Tate, two of the better free-agent signings of the past few years. Jones is leading the squad with 730 yards and four touchdowns, while Tate has added 57 catches and 617 yards.

Should the Lions reach the postseason with a home game in tow, this would represent their best chance to make a playoff run since the days of Herman Moore and Robert Porcher. Detroit would likely see either the New York Giants or Washington Redskins in the Wild Card round. Neither would be the proverbial lay-up, but both are imminently beatable.

The conclusion to Detroit’s season remains to be written, but there is real hope for a team nobody thought would be paying a 17th game this season. That’s more than enough for now.

Power rankings

Top 10 free agents in 2017

1. Kirk Cousins, QB, Washington Redskins
2. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints
3. Le’Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers
4. Eric Berry, S, Kansas City Chiefs
5. Jamie Collins, ILB, Cleveland Browns
6. DeSean Jackson, WR, Washington Redskins
7. Stephon Gilmore, CB, Buffalo Bills
8. Martellus Bennett, TE, New England Patriots
9. Kawaan Short, DT, Carolina Panthers
10. Chandler Jones, OLB, Arizona Cardinals


"“Recently, it’s just a matter of his technique,” longtime offensive line coach Paul Boudreau said of Robinson earlier this week. “He’s all over the place with his feet, he’s all over the place with his hands. And when he gets in trouble, when he stops his feet, he grabs, and he gets those holding penalties that you really don’t need. So he’s got to concentrate on focusing on the little things.”"

– Paul Boudreau, Los Angeles Rams offensive line coach on Greg Robinson’s struggles

The Rams lost on Sunday against the Saints, and did so with offensive tackle Greg Robinson on the sideline in civilian clothes. Robinson, the second-overall selection in the 2014 NFL Draft, has been so bad that head coach Jeff Fisher made him a healthy scratch.

Considering the way Fisher’s teams, and draft picks, have performed since coming to the Rams in 2011, you have to wonder; is Robinson’s failure on himself, or the franchise?

Random stat

One of the most maligned head coaches in NFL history? Rich Kotite. Kotite took over the Eagles in 1991, replacing Buddy Ryan. In four years with Philadelphia, Kotite reached the postseason once (1-1 record) with an overall mark of 36-28.

Then, inexplicably, the wheels came off. Following his dismissal at the conclusion of the 1994 season, Kotite was hired by the Jets. In two season, the Brooklyn native went 4-28. He was replaced by Bill Parcells in 1997, who had the Jets in the AFC Championship Game the following year.

Info we have learned

1. Dolphins about to be tested

Miami has won six straight games, beating the 49ers by a 31-24 on Sunday in a heartstopper. The Dolphins have beaten some quality teams in that stretch including the Steelers and Chargers, but now face a gauntlet the rest of the way.

Adam Gase and Co. will travel to Baltimore this weekend before hosting the Cardinals. The final three games are road dates against the Jets and Bills before playing at home against the Patriots. If the Dolphins want to make the playoffs, 3-2 is a must. Incredibly, 4-1 or better might be the only sure shot.

2. Race for the No. 1 pick

The 2017 NFL Draft isn’t until April, but we can all start looking ahead. As of the end of Sunday, the Browns would be the top choice followed by the 49ers, Bears and Jaguars. All of those teams could be looking for quarterbacks, in a draft where none project as sure-fire franchise starters.

Cleveland could become only the second team in NFL history to go 0-16. The Browns have a bye next week before taking on the Bengals, Bills, Chargers and Steelers over the last month. It looks bleak to say the least.

3. Texans continue to flounder

Houston is not a good football team. After losing to Oakland on Monday, the Texans backed that effort up with four turnovers in a 21-13 loss to the Chargers at NRG Stadium. At 6-5, Houston leads the woeful AFC South by a half-game over the Titans, but the schedule ahead is brutal.

The Texans still have road games against the Titans, Colts and Packers. Houston will likely be underdogs in all of them. If Tennessee or Indianapolis – two teams with vastly superior quarterbacks – can put a run together, Houston will be on the outside looking in come January.

4. Broncos, Chiefs play instant classic

Denver and Kansas City put forth one of the greatest games in recent memory on Sunday night in Mile High. The contest went back and forth throughout, with the Chiefs tying the game in the dying seconds of regulation before winning with a field goal (off the left upright, no less) on the final play of overtime.

This result leaves the two in wildly different positions. The Chiefs are 8-3 and in prime position to battle the Raiders for the AFC West and a second seed. Denver is actually out of the playoff picture with the defeat, dropping to 7-4 and falling behind the Dolphins, via tiebreaker.

5. Redskins, Giants in good shape

Washington lost on Thanksgiving, but the Redskins are 6-4-1 and look to be in great shape to reach the playoffs. New York is 8-3 after beating the Browns and now need only a couple wins to get back into the postseason for the first time since 2011.

While the Giants look to be a lock, the Redskins will need to hold off a few challengers. The Vikings are 6-5, along with the Buccaneers after another impressive win. Washington has a fairly easy schedule remaining, and will need to keep rolling.

History lesson

In 1975, the Steelers won their second consecutive Super Bowl. That season, Pittsburgh went 11-3 with sweeps of the Bengals and Oilers. Those teams combined to go 20-4 against the rest of the NFL that year.

In the playoffs, the Steelers committed 12 turnovers against the Raiders and Colts, yet won both while allowing a total of 20 points. In the Super Bowl, Pittsburgh toppled Roger Staubach, Tom Landry and the Dallas Cowboys.

The 1975 Pittsburgh Steelers. Worth remembering.

Parting shot

The Ravens aren’t getting any attention, but they are hanging in the AFC playoff picture with a 6-5 record. Baltimore is leading the AFC North and if the playoffs began today, would host a game come January. Next week, the Ravens have a huge showdown against the Dolphins at M&T Bank Stadium.

On the NFC side, the Falcons are flying under the radar. Everyone is talking about Dallas and Seattle, but the Falcons are a quality team sitting pretty at 7-4. Atlanta could fight for a bye in the NFC playoffs if the Seahawks slip up down the stretch, and nobody would want to face Matt Ryan and Julio Jones in the Georgia Dome.