The line: Lions by 5½

The story: The Detroit Lions aren’t just hot. They haven’t lost a game since last December. They won their final four last season, all four preseason games and their first five in 2011. That’s a 13-game run, and you wonder why they’re playing with confidence? These guys believe, and they believe this is the year they lift the curse of Matt Millen.

I hope so. Having the Lions in the middle of the playoff picture again not only is good for the 313 area code, it’s good for the NFL — just as having the 49ers back on the map is good for the game. I mean, a year ago at this time these two were a combined 1-9. Now they’re 9-1.

People ask me all the time which of the “surprise” teams this season is most likely to make the playoffs, and the Lions and 49ers are the two I mention first. The Lions aren’t the best team in their division, but they’re one of the best teams in the NFL. The 49ers aren’t one of the best teams in the NFL, but they’re the best team in their division — by a wide margin.

Yes, it’s early, but tell me how many 5-0 teams don’t make it to the playoffs? Never mind. I’ll do it for you. Denver in 2009, and, yeah, there were reasons. So it can happen. Now tell me who’s going to beat San Francisco in the NFC West.

The point is: Both these teams are on an elevator going to the top. The only question is: Who’s better? That is why this game is significant — more significant, I believe, for San Francisco than for Detroit, basically because no one doubts the Lions now. I don’t know that I can say the same about San Francisco. for more


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