Improved Detroit Lions leading the charge in the NFC

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - SEPTEMBER 18: Matthew Stafford /

Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions have started 2017 with purpose. The previously lowly Lions are seemingly no more.

A 3-1 start to the season has seen the Detroit Lions playing some impressive football. The offense is firing with Stafford performing efficiently and confidently.

Whilst the defense is playing up from last year, especially in coverage. Glover Quin and Darius Slay lead one of the league’s best secondaries and each have two picks on the year already.

The coaching staff has assembled a cohesive team that looks ready to make a deep playoff run. Lets take a deeper look at the reasons for Detroit’s strong start and optimistic outlook for the rest of 2017.

Offensive Improvements

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The Lions offense has become far more balanced in 2017. Jim Bob Cooter has improved this unit in spades since he took over in 2015 but it previously lacked any kind of respected running game.

Stafford has been asked to throw the ball far too much in his career with very little support on the ground. But, the emergence of Ameer Abdullah this season has changed that.

Detroit possesses the league’s 19th ranked rushing offense. That doesn’t sound all that great, but when you consider they have had a bottom five ground attack in each of the past three NFL seasons, it is making a marked difference.

They still have the league’s longest streak without a 100-yard single game rusher but the running game is certainly on the up.

The third year-pro struggled in his first couple of seasons but is now giving his team a reliable option in the run game. Abdullah ranks 10th in the NFL in yards at this stage and only three players have had more plays of 20 yards or more on the ground.

The former Cornhusker has also seemingly sorted out his fumbling issue that plagued his rookie year. Taking care of the football has been a strong point for the whole offense.

Detroit leads the league in turnover differential, giving away just two turnovers on offense so far. Stafford has tossed only one pick to his seven touchdown passes and is being increasingly smart with his throws.

The nine-year veteran has a calm about him and isn’t having to carry the offense on his shoulders. His weapons are plenty and dangerous. The legitimate running game is forcing defenses to account for both facets of the offense.

This is opening up the pass for Stafford in a way he hasn’t seen in his career so far.

Golden Tate, Marvin Jones and a trio of exciting tight end’s have given Stafford plenty of options. Eric Ebron, Darren Fells and rookie Michael Roberts have all featured prominently in the passing game and are giving defenses matchup problems in multiple tight end sets.

Cooter and Stafford have done well to manipulate defenses in this way and this offense is becoming one of the more diverse in the league.

Stafford is certainly living up to his huge contract and is playing at a pro bowl level once again. Through four games his completion percentage (63.8) and passer rating (95.9) are amongst the best of his career.

As of now, the former Georgia signal caller is on track to reach the postseason for the fourth time  and will be in his best position yet to make a Super Bowl run.


The secondary, led by pro bowl safety Glover Quin and star corner Darius slay, has been dynamic and ball hawking in 2017.

The Lions lead the league in takeaways and turnover differential in 2017. Largely down to their pair of ball-hawking defensive backs.

This unit also leads the league in defensive touchdowns with two pick sixes so far. Quin owns one of those as well as a further pick and two forced fumbles. The 31-year-old continues to produce at an elite level and is on track for his second pro bowl selection.

Slay also has two picks and the pair have been elite in coverage all year. Up front, Ziggy Anasah continues to be a nuisance in their opponents backfield and Anthony Zettel has contributed four sacks.

The combination of penetration up front and a ball hawking secondary makes this defense sneaky good.

Even if their overall statistics place them in the middle of the pack. The ability to turn the ball over is the single most important factor in changing games around.

This defense has that ability in abundance.

They have been able to give the ball back to the offense in crucial periods and will be a tough unit to bypass on the way to the Super Bowl.

The potential is there for the run defense to be staunch too. With 5 time all pro Haloti Ngata and star rookie linebacker Jarrad Davis in the lineup the front seven should only get better as the year develops.

Super Bowl bound?

This roster is deep and dynamic across the board. They simply have better players at most positions than their divisional rivals and should be the favourites to win the NFC North.

Sure, Aaron Rodgers is capable of a lot. But, the Packers have holes all over their roster. And, with quality quarterback play from Stafford and renewed life in the running game, the Lions should be favoured over almost anyone at home.

Ford Field is loud and a tough place to play come playoff time. So, if they are able to secure home field, this team could be a decent bet to at least go to championship weekend.

The defense is making plays and turning the ball over at an alarming rate, which may slow down but the unit is still strong on all three levels. Stafford is mature enough to lead this team deep into January.

As of now they should be the 1 seed in the NFC.

Atlanta, Seattle and Philadelphia may have their say later in the season. But, the Lions look to be the class of the NFC at the quarter mark.