If the Detroit Lions are to contend for the playoffs this season, here are the five players who can help make that happen:
Matthew Stafford, quarterback: It will always start here as long as Stafford is with the Lions -- and that figures to go into the next decade. He has improved year over year over the past half-decade and has turned into one of the league’s top 10 quarterbacks. He's comfortable running this offense. If Stafford is playing well, the Lions will have a chance to win any game they play. If not, they could lose to almost any team in the league.
Golden Tate, wide receiver: Stafford’s security receiver the past four seasons (perhaps even more than Calvin Johnson), Tate is the epitome of consistency. In his four seasons in Detroit, he has led the NFL in yards after catch (2,460) and has posted at least 90 receptions each season. He has reached the 1,000-yard mark in three of those seasons and has been extremely durable, too.
Glover Quin, safety: He won’t always put up flashy numbers, and he doesn’t have the on-field personality of teammate Darius Slay, but the heart of the Lions' defense resides in the player manning the last line of it. Quin is Detroit’s smartest defensive player and hasn’t missed a game since his rookie season in 2009. Quin’s ability to go sideline to sideline and understand opposing offenses and their tendencies has bailed Detroit out of giving up potentially big plays since his arrival in 2013, and this season should be no different.
Darius Slay, cornerback: A Pro Bowl cornerback and the NFL’s interceptions leader last season, Slay has turned into one of the top corners in the league. His ability to stick with almost any receiver in the league has allowed the Lions to be flexible with their defenses. He has the speed to play with anybody and the ball skills to be an elite corner.
Ezekiel Ansah, defensive end: When Ansah is healthy, he’s one of the best pass-rushers in the NFL and a game-changer for Detroit’s defense. The if-he’s-healthy part has been the problem for the Lions. After a breakout 2015 season, his health has been a problem the past two seasons. His production has come in spurts: Consider that nine of his 12 sacks last season came in three games.