Contrary to what it looked like in the beginning of the season, the NFC North is now a lot more interesting down the stretch. No team has come on stronger in the last month or so of the season than the Detroit Lions, and after starting the year 1-6, they’re now staring down the barrel of a wild-card spot.
We shouldn’t get too ahead of ourselves, though. They’re second in the NFC North, but if the playoffs were to start tomorrow, Detroit still wouldn’t be in. Every win from here on out helps — even against a non-conference opponent, which is what they’re facing this weekend.
The Lions will go to the Meadowlands and take on a New York Jets team that, conversely to Detroit, has cooled in recent weeks. The Jets sit third in the AFC East after losing three of their past four and are riding a two-game losing streak, with both losses coming to good teams. They suffered a Week 13 defeat at the hands of their division rival Buffalo Bills before succumbing to the Minnesota Vikings last weekend.
Lions are legit contenders after upsetting Vikings
Greg Jennings explains why he believes the Lions are absolutely heading into the playoffs.
Meanwhile, the Lions are 5-1 in their last six games and are averaging 29.3 points during that span. They’ve scored 30 or more points in seven games this season, which is the most of any team. Detroit also has the best red zone touchdown percentage in the league at 75%.
What’s more, is that the Lions’ defense has stepped up in a big way. Over the past six games, the defense is letting up an average of 20.3 points per game, which is a far cry from their 35.1 point-per-game average from the beginning of the season.
Detroit quarterback Jared Goff has 910 passing yards and seven passing touchdowns against zero interceptions in his last three games alone. He’s on pace for his second-best season in passing yards as it stands, as well. And he’s surrounded by now-healthy talent with the debut of rookie Jameson Williams and slot receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown leading the way. St. Brown is second in the NFC in receptions with 82, tied for second in receiving first downs, fourth in yards after the catch and fifth in receiving yards overall. The production isn’t slowing down but the Jets might have something to say about it.
New York ranks sixth in scoring defense, allowing just 18.7 points per game behind two young superstars in Sauce Gardner and Quinnen Williams. The latter has 11 sacks this season, which is the most by a Jets player since Muhammad Wilkerson in 2015.
Offensively, the Jets are nothing to snuff at, either, recent results notwithstanding. Rookie Garrett Wilson broke Keyshawn Johnson’s Jets rookie receiving yards record of 866 yards in 1996. Wilson leads all rookies with 63 receptions this season.
Matchup to watch: Sauce Gardner vs. Jameson Williams
It’s two of the best out of this year’s draft class, and seeing them go head-to-head now that Williams is healthy will likely give some Cotton Bowl flashbacks. Now, both are at the NFL level and Williams ripped off first touchdown Band-Aid off last game. He’ll likely be itching to get another and I’d have to think Gardner will be part of the efforts to stop him in a must-win game for both teams.
The Lions are allowing 26.7 points per game, laying the groundwork for the Jets to finally score some points, which have been hard to come by since Week 12 against Chicago. New York needs to get back on track given that it is on the outside looking into the playoffs. They’re also sitting fourth in the AFC East, meaning they need to gain more ground within their division, but every win helps. The problem is, the Lions are in the same situation, except they are second in the NFC North. They have the momentum going their way too, looking for their third-straight win.
I do think it’s going to be close, though. Yes, the Jets are in kind of a slump, but each of their past four losses have come by one score or less. Teams aren’t running away on points over New York’s third-ranked defense, so the Lions are going to have to have all cylinders firing if they want to keep their playoff hopes alive.
Lions 31, Jets 30
Carmen Vitali covers the NFC North for FOX Sports. Carmen had previous stops with The Draft Network and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. She spent six seasons with the Bucs, including 2020, which added the title of Super Bowl Champion (and boat-parade participant) to her résumé. You can follow Carmen on Twitter at @CarmieV.
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