General manager Martin Mayhew has to be the first guy on this list. After all he's the one that put the roster together and hired the coaching staff. Without him this year's playoff team (and 11-game winner) doesn't happen. His personnel decisions have been debated prior to this season, but he's proved to be pretty adept at his job; and hiring coach Jim Caldwell was a fantastic move. Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Speaking of coach Caldwell, he has to be toward the top of the list. He's brought accountability to this team, and a sense of calm especially under pressure. The team has not self-destructed late in games or in big moments like they did under Jim Schwartz. He dropped talented malcontent Nick Fairley down the depth chart in the preseason, which drove Fairley to lean up and adjust his attitude. Prior to his injury Fairley was putting together a monster season, and Caldwell has also gotten the most out of Ndamukong Suh. He treats his players like men and the results have been astonishing. Leon Halip/Getty Images
Getty ImagesLeon Halip
Austin has turned this defense into a formiddable unit, and the league's second best scoring and total defense; not to mention it's best rushing defense, and the best rushing defense the league has seen since the 2010 Steelers. Austin will be a prime head coaching candidate based off the job he did to turnaround what had been a pretty woeful unit. Thanks to him, this team has an identity on defense that could translate to a deep playoff run.
The league leader in interceptions (he has 7 through 16 weeks) has helped solidify a good secondary that has helped the Lions be very stout against the pass. Quin is a guy with playoff expereience: he was a Texan prior to coming to Detroit, and he's used his years in the postseason with Houston to help influence young guys like Darius Slay in the defensive backfield. Quin has also been all over the field making opposing QBs' lives miserable. Here's a stat for you: if Quin's league lead in picks holds up, he'll be the first Lion in over 40 years to lead the NFL in interceptions!
Ndamukong has not just been extremely productive, he's also been extremely well-behaved and has had no issues on or off the field. He's gone about his business with incredible efficiency and production. It's what's been leading to the constant talk about his FA status following this year, though he's been good about not answering any questions about his status as a Lion in the years to come. Suh has been the anchor on a defensive line that's been among the best in the league.
Levy is one of the best, if not the best, linebackers in the NFL. Levy has been a monster all year long and has been good in pass coverage, stopping the run, and pressuring the QB. Levy is one of the Lions who's really helped this team roar.
Duane Burleson/Associated PressDuane Burleson
With Megatron banged up like he was in the early part of the season, Tate has been the go-to guy for Matt Stafford. Golden has been a great possession receiver that has helped this team convert crucial third downs, and score big touchdowns when they've needed it. Like with Quin on defense, Tate has had some playoff experience on a different team. He was in the Super Bowl last year with Seattle, and he's played like a champion when the team has needed him. Steve Flynn-USA TODAY Sports
Steve Flynn-USA TODAY SportsSteven Flynn
The sophomore CB has been night-and-day better than he was in his rookie campaign. He looked lost at times in his 2013 rookie season and was a liability. This year he's been a vice grip on opposing WRs at times, and he's been incredibly dynamic and productive in the defensive backfield. More experienced DBs like Glover Quin and James Ihedigbo have helped the young corner blossom into one of the league's best, and he's taken those lessons and run with them to become a real weapon in the secondary. Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
Adam Hunger-USA TODAY SportsAdam Hunger
This defense is a major reason the Lions are 11-4 with a chance to contend for a division title; worst case, they're a wild card team in 2014. Ansah brought the hammer down on a lot of quarterbacks this year, and he's looked like the talent he was projected to be as a raw DE prospect coming out of BYU a season ago. Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Getty ImagesGregory Shamus/Getty Images
While Stafford hasn't been as explosive as he was in 2011, or really for several seasons in his career, he's been much smarter with the football and he's been clutch. He's the orchestrator of many of the team's comeback wins this year; involved in many go-ahead or GW touchdowns, or drives that resulted in a go-ahead or GW field goal. He's on pace for the fewest amount of interceptions of his carrer, and we've seen he could explode at any time. He had a nice stretch from Week 13-15 in which he had 6 TDs and no interceptions. Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Marton-USA TODAY SportsMatt Marton
The offensive coordinator has not been able to get this offensive unit to be as explosive as fans may have hoped. However, he's been able to keep Matthew Stafford calm and in control, and it seems like Stafford's mechanics are better. Lombardi has also been able to utilize guys like Joique Bell, Theo Riddick, Corey Fuller, Golden Tate, and the like while studs like Reggie Bush and Calvin Johnson have been either hurt or struggling. In 2014 he's coordinated an offense that is good in late games, doesn't make killer mistakes, and most importantly...an offense that will be playoff-bound in 2014. Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports