For starters, the Lions have tied the franchise record (set in 1991) for most wins through 10 games since the AFL-NFL merger of 1970. At 8-2, this Lions team has a chance at the top seed in the NFC, trailing only the 9-1 Eagles. (They’re a whopping four games ahead of the Green Bay Packers, their opponent on Thursday.) From 2002 to 2022, 73 NFL teams had eight or more wins at this point of the season. A lion’s share of those teams won their division (65), with 25 going to the Super Bowl, including a dozen eventual champions. Representing the NFC in the Super Bowl would be a victory in and of itself; the Lions are the only NFC team that has never advanced to the Super Bowl. (Three teams in the AFC can say the same: the Browns, Jaguars and Texans.)
According to the latest playoff odds using analyst Aaron Schatz’s defense-adjusted value over average — which measures a team’s efficiency by comparing success on every play to a league average based on situation and opponent — the Lions are a near certainty to win the division (92 percent) and have a 24 percent chance at earning the NFC No. 1 seed. That’s key, since the top spot also comes with a first-round bye under the current playoff format. At the very least the Lions should be the No. 2 or No. 3 seed, which would give them home-field advantage in the opening round.
According to Schatz, this is the best-performing Lions team at this point in the season since at least 1981, when his data begins. Schatz calculated estimated DVOA ratings for prior years and found only three seasons when the franchise had a better estimated DVOA through Week 11: 1953, 1961 and 1970. After splitting the metric into its offensive and defensive components, Schatz found this is Detroit’s best offensive performance since at least 1981 and its best defensive performance since 2014. This year’s team, according to DVOA, is better overall than the team that won the 1957 NFL championship.
Quarterback Jared Goff is the story on offense. He’s had some issues, including three interceptions this past Sunday, but he ranks No. 7 in ESPN’s Total Quarterback Rating, which values the quarterback on all play types adjusted for the strength of opposing defenses. He’s been even better according to the game charters at Pro Football Focus, who rank him second in the NFL.
“Here’s what we know about Goff,” Lions head coach Dan Campbell said on Sunday. “At the very least he’s going to be mentally tough and physically tough. You can always count on that. You can bank on that.”
Goff has also embraced rookie tight end Sam LaPorta, who has caught 50 of 69 targets for 492 yards and four touchdowns. LaPorta ranks fifth among all tight ends in catches, while Amon-Ra St. Brown is sixth in receptions among wide receivers.
Campbell is also showing his faith in the offense by being the NFL’s most aggressive coach on fourth downs. Campbell has left his offense on the field 22 times on fourth downs, resulting in a fourth-down try a third of the time, the highest mark of any coach this season.
Detroit’s defense is below average in a lot of raw statistical categories such as points allowed per game (22nd), first downs allowed (19th) and net passing yards allowed (18th). But after adjusting its efficiency for opponent, the Lions’ defense is actually the 10th best in the NFL this season — after having faced the 11th hardest slate of opposing offenses.
It’s clear the Lions have transformed from perennial underdogs to serious contenders. With eight wins already secured, this season is an escape from the ghosts of Thanksgiving past. They return to Ford Field as a Thanksgiving Day favorite (the current line is Detroit -7½) for the first time since 2016, with the top seed in the NFC within reach and a good chance for their first holiday win in six years.
Speaking of droughts, the Lions have won one playoff game in 12 postseason appearances over the past five decades, and none since the 1991 season. A Thanksgiving win would be nice, but if they continue to excel in this breakthrough season, the real pressure will arrive with the playoffs.