The Detroit Lions have put themselves in a position where Sunday night's Week 18 contest in Green Bay against the Packers could potentially mean a spot in the playoffs with a win. After a 1-6 start, that didn't seem like a possibility back in November, but credit to head coach Dan Campbell, his staff and the players for turning their season around and finishing 7-2 to make a run.
There have been a lot of performances that have propelled the Lions into this position down the stretch. Here are five that stand out to me:
1. Quarterback Jared Goff
Goff is playing the best football of his career, and he's one of the big catalysts behind Detroit's success the final few months of the season.
Goff is currently one of just six signal callers in the NFL with a passer rating north of 100.0 (100.1). He's sixth in yards (4,214), fourth in touchdowns (29), and his seven interceptions are the sixth fewest among quarterbacks with at least 300 pass attempts on the year. Goff hasn't thrown an interception in 290 pass attempts dating back to Nov. 6 in the first matchup with the Packers Week 9.
"He's in this mode right now where you feel like anytime you dial up a pass he's going to find us somebody," Lions head coach Dan Campbell said after Goff's three-touchdown performance in Detroit's 41-10 win over the Bears last week. "He's going to find the throw, he's going to get it to the guy that's open and that's a great feeling, man, to feel your quarterback is in that mode and he's been there."
2. Linebacker James Houston
Houston started the season on the practice squad but has been dominant ever since joining the active roster six weeks ago. His 8.0 sacks in his first six games are an NFL record. He has produced at least 1.0 sack in five of his first six career NFL games, which ties Von Miller (2011) and Santana Dotson (1992) for the most games with at least 1.0 sack through six games played.
The Lions flirted with him playing an off-the-ball linebacker role when he first got here after being selected in the sixth round by the team in this year's NFL Draft, a role he played early in his college career at Florida, but it soon became clear that Houston has rare pass rush ability with his low center of gravity, elite bend and burst. He's been a difference maker for the Lions' defense the last month and a half.
3. Offensive line
It's not fair to single out just one player here because more than any position on the football field this unit has to work as one to be successful. Left tackle Taylor Decker, left guard Jonah Jackson, center Frank Ragnow, right guard Evan Brown and right tackle Penei Sewell are arguably the top offensive line in football.
The Lions are coming off a performance Sunday in which they rushed for a season-high 265 yards. Goff has been sacked just 23 times all season, which is the second fewest behind only Tampa Bay (22).
For the first time in franchise history, the Lions have 4,000 passing yards and 2,000 rushing yards in the same season. That's how good this offensive line has been all season, but particularly the last couple of months.
4. Cornerback Jerry Jacobs
Jacobs missed the first half of the season rehabbing a torn ACL he suffered in December of last season. He returned to a regular defensive role Week 9 and it's no coincidence the Lions' defense started playing better ball once Jacobs returned at one of the outside cornerback spots.
Jacobs is tough and physical, and is quickly becoming Detroit's top cover man in just his second season as an undrafted player out of Arkansas. On the year, opposing quarterbacks are completing just 55.8 percent of their passes thrown at Jacobs with a 71.0 passer rating. Jacobs hasn't allowed a touchdown in his coverage area all season according to Pro Football Focus statistics.
5. Wide reciever Amon-Ra St. Brown
St. Brown has been so consistent for this passing game in 2022. He's produced 55-plus receiving yards in 10 straight games, tying the second longest single-season streak in team history.
St. Brown notched his 100th reception of the season last week against the Bears and has 1,112 receiving yards and six touchdowns on the season. He's passed Christian McCaffrey and Odell Beckham Jr. (187) for the fourth most receptions a player has had through two seasons in NFL history.
St. Brown is crafty and tough, and has the respect of all his teammates for the way he plays the game, especially Goff, who's built terrific chemistry with his slot receiver. St. Brown can do it all, and he's been Detroit's most consistent weapon on offense all season long.