The Detroit Lions are headed to the playoffs for only the second time in 15 years, and they could win their first division title in 21 years with a victory Sunday at Green Bay. It's all turned first-year coach Jim Caldwell into a hero around here. The vibe around the team's headquarters following a 1-6 collapse to end last season started to change early in the year with the firing of Jim Schwartz and the hiring of Caldwell as his replacement. Schwartz was fiery and helped lead the winless team he inherited to the playoffs in three years, but he had taken them as far as he could. Caldwell has a totally different demeanor. His calmness helped settle this team down and lead it to an 11-4 record with one game remaining, including 6-1 in games decided by seven points or fewer.
With a new coaching staff in place, the next phase of the offseason focused on the drafting of tight end Eric Ebron and signing of two unrestricted free agents -- receiver Golden Tate and strong safety James Ihedigbo. Ebron hasn't lived up to the hype yet, but Tate and Ihedigbo have been two of the league's best acquisitions this year. They brought their Super Bowl rings with them, helped strengthen the locker room and then produced on the field better than anyone could have imagined. The Lions wouldn't be where they are without these two. Perhaps it's time to give much-maligned general manager, Martin Mayhew, a little credit for the way he's put this roster together.
Winners at Wembley
The team traveled overseas to London, England, in late October to take part in the NFL's international series with a unique 9:30 a.m. Eastern kickoff that was televised nationally by FOX. It counted as a home game for the Atlanta Falcons, which is always an advantage for the opposing team. Detroit, however, trailed 21-0 at halftime before rallying to win on a 48-yard field goal as time expired by Matt Prater, the team's third kicker this season. The Lions actually benefitted from their own penalty when a delay-of-game negated Prater's first attempt, which was no good, and gave him another chance. It was an example of how this team's long-time fate has seemingly taken a turn with good fortune replacing bad.
Getty ImagesJordan Mansfield
Turkey day turnaround
Year in and year out, there's no bigger day for football in Detroit than the Thanksgiving tradition that dates back to 1934. A 34-17 rout of the Chicago Bears this season was their second straight victory on Thanksgiving after losing nine straight years. This was particularly special because Calvin Johnson, who had missed three games and was ineffective in several others because of an ankle injury, showed his old Megatron self again with 11 catches for 146 yards and two touchdowns. The Lions also improved to 3-0 in their nationally televised games, including an opening victory at home over the New York Giants on Monday Night Football.
Tim Fuller-USA TODAY SportsTim Fuller
Ford Field fanatics
The home schedule concluded before an extremely rowdy crowd in Week 15 with an ugly but important 16-14 victory over the Minnesota Vikings. It could go down as star defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh's final home game as a Lion if they don't win the division and he then decides to sign elsewhere when he becomes a free agent after the season. The game summed up an unusual season in which a previously ineffective defense has surprisingly emerged as one of the best in the league under first-time coordinator Teryl Austin, while the offense, despite its big-name weapons, continues to be inconsistent. The Lions finished with a 7-1 record at Ford Field, their best showing at home in nearly two decades.