The Detroit Lions are 5-0 for the first time since 1956 and have seemingly taken the entire nation by storm. The team bandwagon is filling up, the city of Detroit has more hope in its sports teams than it has in generations, and finally the Lions are looking like viable Super Bowl contenders.
How did this downtrodden franchise, which hadn't been on Monday Night Football for 10 years before last night, manage to evolve into such an undefeated powerhouse? Here are the top five reasons the Lions are 5-0.
1) Matthew Stafford Has Stayed Healthy
The health of star quarterback Matthew Stafford has been one of the primary keys to Detroit's success this season. Stafford dealt with shoulder injuries in his first two seasons with the Lions, which kept the Lions from reaching their full potential. He missed 19 games in those first two seasons, including 13 in his second year.
The third-year quarterback out of Georgia is finally healthy this season after surgery on his right shoulder and has flourished through five games. He currently has the third most passing touchdowns, the sixth best quarterback rating, and the seventh most passing yards.
Most importantly is that Stafford has learned to be more efficient and smart with his decision making. Stafford's stat line on Monday against the Bears perfectly exemplifies that point -- he threw for a modest 219 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, but it was all that the Lions needed.
He isn't forcing the type of throws that led to 20 interceptions in his first year in the NFL, but instead doing a great job of finding Calvin Johnson and others in space -- like that perfect 73-yard touchdown in the second quarter.
ESPN's Bill Simmons has joked about how the quarterback should always be referred to as Matthew Stafford If He Stays Healthy because the team counts on him that much. As long as Stafford continues to stay healthy, the Lions should do big things.
2) Calvin Johnson is Best Wide Receiver in the NFL
Stafford wouldn't be nearly as effective if he didn't have the best wide receiver in the NFL on his team. And yes, Calvin Johnson is the best wide receiver in the NFL -- ahead of the Texans' Andre Johnson, the Cardinals' Larry Fitzgerald, and the Falcons' Roddy White. Johnson is the most athletic, physically talented wide receiver the NFL has had since Randy Moss in his prime.
He already has an incredible nine touchdowns in five games -- four more than second place Wes Welker -- along with the fifth most receiving yards and eighth most catches. Johnson is the real deal in every aspect of the game and has developed a great working relationship with Stafford.
He's able to make catches that no one else in the NFL could even conceive, yet alone actually make, while also drawing away defensive attention from Nate Burleson, Jahvid Best, and Brandon Pettigrew.
3) A Staunch Defensive Line
One could see the Lions offense beginning to develop into a high octane force, but it's the defensive line's dominance that really rounds out and completes the Lions. Ndamukong Suh is the best defensive tackle in the NFL and possesses that rare combination of power and speed that scare offensive coordinators and quarterbacks throughout the NFL. Suh along with 2011 first round pick Nick Fairley got pressure on Bears quarterback Jay Cutler all night on Monday -- showing why the Lions were willing to take a chance on the former Auburn star with knee injuries.
The Lions don't dominate the stat lines in sacks or total tackles, but watching the Lions four-man front absolutely dominate the Bears' offensive line last night showed just how much promise and potential this defense has. Just like with Stafford, if Suh and Fairley can stay healthy -- look out.
4) Great Home Field Advantage With Ford Field
Never was the home field advantage of Ford Field more evident than Monday night against the Bears. The stadium rocked all night with loud and passionate fans -- jarring Cutler and the Bears into a few miscues. It's clear that Detroit fans have been desperately looking for a reason to celebrate and support a good team, which they finally have.
We showed what it can do to an opponent's offense, Stafford told reporters after the game. You couldn't hear yourself think. That's the potential of the city. We know they can get behind us like that and wreck the game for the other team.
The home field advantage will be extremely important going forward for the Lions. The Lions' two biggest tests are the San Francisco 49ers in Week 6 and the Atlanta Falcons in Week 7 before a Thanksgiving home game against the similarly undefeated Green Bay Packers. Both of those games are at home and if the Lions manage to win, they could go into the Thanksgiving game at 10-0.
5) Coach Jim Schwartz
The Lions have smartly given Schwartz time to implement his game strategies and develop the team the way he wanted after taking over the team from Rod Marinelli. It's taken Schwartz a little bit of time to get the Lions on track - they went 2-10 in 2009 and 6-10 in 2010 - but it's clear that his strategies along with smart drafting decision by management has set the Lions up for success.
The Maryland native has gained Detroit native Kid Rock's support -- the rock star said I love this coach -- but most importantly has gained the support of the city. The hardnosed Detroit fans have embraced Schwartz and this team through the tough times -- so just imagine what it will be like now that they are 5-0.
Schwartz is a smart, likable guy that is clearly the right man to lead these Lions.
Want to reach this writer? You can contact John Talty at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @jtalty