The skinny with the Lions is they're suddenly in position for a postseason run.
That appeared unlikely with the Lions at 1-3 after three consecutive losses and with the Vikings winning their first five games of the season. But Minnesota has lost its last four games and Detroit has won four of five.
The result? When the Green Bay Packers and Vikings both lost this past Sunday, the Lions – then on their bye week – moved into first place in the NFC North.
That scenario made the coming week key for Detroit. They play the Jaguars Sunday, then play host to the Vikings on Thanksgiving Day. Victories in those two games would put the Lions at 7-4 with victories in six of seven games. It also would give them a season sweep of Minnesota.
"I don't think there was one point [when the season turned around]," Lions quarterback Matt Stafford said. "We obviously didn't play well enough for a three-game stretch there early on in the season. We divide our season into quarters and the second quarter of the season was a good one for us.
"This is going to be the second game of the third quarter of the season so we're just trying to continue getting better and find ways to win."
The Lions have trailed in the fourth quarter of all nine games this season, coming from behind to win five times. They have trailed in the final two minutes of every game this season except one. The Jaguars have trailed in the fourth quarter eight times this season and have won one of those games.
Stafford's emergence as elite – and as perhaps the NFL's best-come-from-behind quarterback – has been the key to the Lions' season. Stafford has completed 214 of 318 passes for 2,373 yards and 18 touchdowns with five interceptions. Stafford has been helped by a wide receiver corps that has emerged as one of the deepest in the NFL in the wake of the offseason retirement of wide receiver Calvin Johnson. Five Lions offensive players have at least 30 receptions.
The Lions, who rank 23rd in the NFL in total defense, struggled defensively early when they allowed 34 and 35 points in two of their first three games. They also have allowed eight of nine opposing quarterbacks to register a 100.0 passer rating or above, with the lone exception being Brock Osweiler of the Texans. But they have improved defensively in recent weeks with two of their best defensive performances of the season in the last three games. Defensive end Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah, after registering 10 sacks a season through his first three NFL seasons, has yet to have a sack this season. "The defensive line is something again we have to be cognizant about," Jaguars offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said. "They are not really a read technique. They are not going to sit at the line. They are going to try to just run through the offensive line. I think that both in the run game and the pass game we have to be able to match their explosion."
With the Jaguars struggling for pass rush in the last month, Sunday's game could be decided on how well their cornerbacks play against the Lions' receivers. Marvin Jones leads Detroit with 661 yards receiving, Anquan Boldin leads them with five touchdown receptions and Golden Tate leads them with 49 receptions. This balanced group will match up with perhaps the strongest, deepest area of the Jaguars' defense – a trio of cornerbacks that includes rookie Jalen Ramsey, veteran Prince Amukamara and nickel Aaron Colvin. "We have to be sharp in our zone coverages and obviously in our man situations, we have to play tight coverage," Jaguars defensive coordinator Todd Wash said, adding of Stafford, "He has a lot of different weapons. I like how we are playing the pass in the back end."
"We play really good situational football when we've needed to, both offensively and defensively and [we've] made some big plays on defense in some of those games. On offense, we were able to put the ball either through the uprights or in the end zone when we needed to. Situationally, we're playing well, but at the same time we got to clean up."
--Stafford on the Lions' ability to come from behind in the fourth quarter
"First of all, we have a pretty strong veteran leadership that makes a difference, particularly in some of the tight moments. I think the young guys were able to lean on the older guys to look to them for a little guidance. I think that's what has made the difference for us."
--Lions Head Coach Jim Caldwell
"Let me tell you something about Golden Tate: He is a fierce competitor. He really is. I loved going against him in practice up in Seattle. He competed in everything he did. He can make acrobatic catches. He can take a short pass and turn it into a big gain. He can make a game-winning catch like he has done so much in his career. I have a lot of respect for him."
--Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley