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O'HARA'S MONDAY COUNTDOWN: Week 13 NFC playoff watch

The Detroit Lions are where they are because of who they are. First place in the NFC North is not their sovereign territory or position that this year's roster of players inherited from royal predecessors who left championship banners hanging from the stadium catwalks.

The 2016 Lions have worked their way into a healthy two-game lead in the division over the crumbling Minnesota Vikings and resurgent Green Bay Packers with an emphasis on "work" and a mindset that takes nothing for granted – except that there's another game on the schedule.

Sunday's 28-13 victory over the New Orleans Saints was a microcosm of the workmanlike attitude and approach that has been the foundation for whatever the Lions are building this season.

They dominated every phase of the game to make their record 8-4.

A comment by linebacker Josh Bynes, one of the role players on a team that has more players of his stature than it does superstars with super-sized egos, bears repeating for how it summed up the fiber of this team.

"I'm not going to lie: you'd have to be a fool to say this wasn't a really good game for us," Bynes said. "Offensively, we really put up points. Defensively we made key stops when we needed to get off the field and put our offense back on.

"When you've got guys just doing their job, doing their responsibility, everything else takes care of itself."

This week's Monday Countdown starts with the Playoff Watch in the NFC North, with the first-place Lions and the Packers and Vikings in the two-team chase pack.

There's also Matthew Stafford's take on what it was like to play with the lead in the fourth quarter for the first time this year, six takeaways, some good, some bad, from Sunday's win at New Orleans, and the the Lions' hot stats starting with how Golden Tate has solidified his identity as Stafford's go-to receiver.

There's also a reflection on what Stafford said to Tate on the sideline that reinforces a side of Stafford that the public is starting to grasp. It's called leadership.

We start with the Playoff Watch

1. How the Lions, Vikings and Packers line up

Lions (8-4)

Remaining games: Home vs. Bears (3-9); at Giants (8-4); at Cowboys (11-1); home vs. Packers (6-6).

Stock watch/trend: A four-game winning streak and two-game lead makes the Lions a stronger buy by the week.

Vikings (6-6)

Remaining games: At Jaguars (2-10); home vs. Colts (5-6 going into tonight's game vs. the Jets); at Packers (6-6); home vs. Bears (3-9).

Stock watch/trend: Dump everything, with a 1-6 record in the last seven games. They can't score.

Packers (6-6)

Remaining games: Home vs. Seahawks (8-3-1); at Bears (3-9); home vs. Vikings (6-6); at Lions 8-4.

Stock watch/trend: It's a scary team because of their history of seven straight playoff appearances. A two-game winning streak has them thinking they can win out. It's not impossible, but it's not likely. Save your money.

2. Lions' formula/prediction: The Lions win the North if they win one game and beat Green Bay in the finale, or if they win two games and the Packers lose one of their last four to anybody.

My prediction: The Lions win the North.

3. Leading: The Lions never trailed against the Saints. Not in the first quarter. Not at halftime. Not in the third quarter. And never in the fourth quarter.

The Lions made their mark in the first 11 games by going 7-4 despite being behind in the fourth quarter of all 11 games. Only the Cleveland Browns could match that, and they stayed behind. That's how they got to 0-12.

Playing with the lead – 13-6 at halftime and 19-6 going into the fourth quarter – was a new experience this year. The Lions handled it well.

"Those drives at the end of the game when you have the lead are still really big drives – just in a different way," Stafford said.

Despite bogging down in the red zone and settling for four field goals, the offense controlled the ball, and the defense intercepted Drew Brees three times.

"Our defense giving up 13 points to those guys is pretty incredible," Stafford said.

4. National props for the defense: Stafford wasn't the only one who was impressed with the defense holding the high-powered Saints offense to 13 points. On NBC's pre-game show before Sunday night's Seahawks-Panthers game, Tony Dungy and Rodney Harrison both raved about it.

"I expected their offense to be able to win a shootout, but this was great defense today led by their secondary," said Dungy.

Harrison targeted the Lions as a team to be reckoned with.

"Very underrated," Harrison said. "I wouldn't want to play Detroit. I like Detroit."

5. Six takeaways from Sunday:

Role players on defense: Without starting middle linebacker and leading tackler Tahir Whitehead, rookie Antwione Williams and Bynes started. The Lions played five and six defensive backs a lot, which included three safeties – a package they've used effectively often.

Safeties the safety net: All three interceptions were by safeties – Glover Quin, Tavon Wilson and rookie Miles Killebrew – and all three were in the second half to thwart any comeback by the Saints.

Role players on offense: With starting wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr. out, Andre Roberts and T J Jones picked up the slack. Roberts had four catches for 35 yards. Jones, signed from the practice squad, had three catches for 49 yards with a long catch of 36 yards. It was the first game of the year for Jones, and he showed that he paid attention while on the practice squad.

When rookie running back Dwayne Washington went out with an injury, Zach Zenner got his first sustained playing time of the year with the offense. He responded with nine carries for 40 yards when the Lions were controlling the ball in the fourth quarter.

The road: Playing away from home is not a daunting task. The Lions are 3-3 on the road this year. And the noise at the Superdome didn't seem to have any effect.

Red zone/dead zone: Going one for five in the red zone has to be corrected. The Lions left too many points on the board.

Bad penalty: Tight end Eric Ebron jumped the count on a second and one in the fourth quarter when the Lions were trying to run out the clock. That's a concentration lapse.

6. Hot stats, Golden Tate: He was in a bit of a funk early in the season, and bottomed out in a loss at Chicago in Game 4 when he misread a route that led to an interception. He had one catch in that game and only 14 in the first four games.

Since then Tate has rebounded to become Stafford's primary target. On Sunday he had eight catches on 10 targets for 145 yards and a touchdown. The TD catch was a 66-yard play.

For his last eight games Tate has 51 catches for 667 yards, making his totals for the season 65 catches for 762 yards.

Tate needs 25 catches in the last four games to have three straight seasons of 90 catches or more.

Herman Moore is the only player in franchise history to do that. He had three straight seasons of 100-plus catches, from 1995-97. Calvin Johnson had two of 90-plus for his career.

7. Hot stats, Lions:

Caldwell's second-half rallies: Finishing strong has been a characteristic of Lions teams since Jim Caldwell became head coach in 2014. They were 5-3 in 2014, 6-2 last year and 4-0 so far this year – a combined 15-5 in the second half with four games left.

Stafford's won-loss record: After missing 19 of 32 games because of injuries in his first two seasons, Stafford has started every game since opening day of 2011. Sunday's win made his regular-season won-loss record 47-45 since the start of 2011.

Interception free zone: Stafford's five interceptions – against 21 TD passes – are the fewest of his career after 12 games. His previous low after 12 games for a full season was 11, in 2014 and 2012.

Stafford's last 20: In his last 20 games he has 40 TD passes and seven interceptions.

8. Stafford-Tate tete-a-tete: Tate was wide open on his 66-yard catch and run for a touchdown. Stafford was hit as he was throwing, and Tate had to wait for the ball. He zig-zagged to the end zone.

On the sideline, Stafford had some words of caution for Tate.

Stafford related what he told Tate: "'Don't take for granted scoring on that ball.' I mean, we had had some struggles in the red zone. If he gets tackled on the five or the 10 or the 20, it may not be seven. You'd like to think that it is because we're a confident group, but at the same time that's a big play to take that ball into the end zone and score, and just a really nice play by him."

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