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NFL Notebook - Week 5



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Just Green Bay and Detroit remain unbeaten through four games.

The defending Super Bowl champion Packers' offense is even better than last season with Aaron Rodgers still improving, Jermichael Finley and Ryan Grant healthy and Randall Cobb boosting the return game.

The Packers are on pace to score 592 points and Rodgers is on track to throw for 5,300 yards. Both marks would be single-season NFL records.

Certainly the Packers are for real. But what about the Lions? Just how good are they?

The Lions pulled off an overtime road victory against Minnesota two weeks ago after trailing by 20 points and then came from a staggering 24 points down in the third quarter to beat the Cowboys in Dallas. Minus those two improbable comebacks, Detroit would be an improved 2-2, but not worth being mentioned in the same breath as the mighty Packers.

Note, the Lions and Packers don't tangle until Thanksgiving Day on Nov. 24. They've never met that late in the season during a non-strike year.

It's the Lions who are the hottest team with eight straight victories. If you count preseason, the Lions have won 12 in a row. Are the Lions really this good?

Yes and no.

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Yes in the sense that wide receiver Calvin Johnson is the best in the game. Even Dallas defensive coordinator Rob Ryan should admit that now. Before Johnson burned the Cowboys for two touchdowns, Ryan ridiculously stated that Johnson wasn't as good as Dallas' two top wideouts, Dez Bryant and Miles Austin.

Yes in that Matthew Stafford is a major talent capable of making all the throws. When healthy he rates among the top seven quarterbacks and he's healthy now.

Yes, in that the Lions' defensive line could be the best in the league sparked by dominant tackle Ndamukong Suh.

Detroit last went 4-0 in 1980. The Lions didn't make the playoffs that year.

The Lions aren't a fluke this year. Matt Millen is far in the rear view mirror. Improvement has occurred each of the last two years as Jim Schwartz has upgraded the talent while providing solid coaching and leadership, something the Lions have consistently lacked since the 1950s.

But let's not get carried away. The Lions aren't nearly a complete enough team to be considered among the elite teams yet. Stafford has never lasted an entire season and Jahvid Best, by far the Lions' top runner, also has proven injury prone.

The Lions' offensive line is average-to-below average. The linebacking isn't anything special although Stephen Tulloch is a tackles machine and their secondary has gone from terrible to semi-respectable. Depth is a problem at linebacker.

It's easy to overlook these mediocre areas right now in the glow of the Lions' 4-0 mark and upcoming Monday night home game against the Bears. The spotlight and center stage clearly is on the Lions now. They are favored against the Bears for the first time since 2005.

This is the Lions' time now. Keep in mind, though, that they have tough matchups in five of their final six games hosting Green Bay on Thanksgiving followed by a road game against New Orleans, a home game versus Minnesota then at Oakland followed by a home matchup against San Diego and then a regular-season finale at Green Bay.

So don't anoint a playoff spot yet for the Lions.

  
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