Power Rankings: Preseason: 28. This week: 27.
Where they stand: The Lions have already matched their 2009 win total and are by all accounts an improved team heading in the right direction. But the proverbial black cloud continues to hang over this franchise, slowing its progress and adding to the angst of its fan base. It started in Week 1 with receiver Calvin Johnson's infamous non-touchdown, continued through two Matthew Stafford shoulder injuries and most recently surfaced in a heart-breaking home loss to the New York Jets -- a game decided in part by, yes, the failure of a defensive tackle to convert an extra point.
Falling: Stafford's twice-injured shoulder has raised serious concerns about the Lions' long-term stability at the position. Sunday will mark his 12th injury-related missed start since entering the league last season, and he's likely to miss additional time before returning to the field. Middle linebacker DeAndre Levy missed five of the first six games because of injuries, leaving the Lions to patch together that critical position. And coach Jim Schwartz has made some game-management decisions that were at least highly debatable. Two stand out in particular: Playing for a field goal at the end of the first half against the Minnesota Vikings, and calling for a pass-run option as the Lions tried to run out the clock late in the fourth quarter Sunday.
Rising: That defensive tackle, rookie Ndamukong Suh, has otherwise proved to be a Pro Bowl-caliber player. He leads all NFL interior linemen with 6.5 sacks while contributing a nasty demeanor to a previously moribund defense. In fact, the Lions' entire defensive line has played as advertised. Defensive ends Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril have four sacks apiece, and nose tackle Corey Williams has been a force. The Lions have been richly rewarded for taking a flier on cornerback Alphonso Smith, who has four interceptions, and rookie tailback Jahvid Best had some moments of elite-level explosion before being slowed by a turf toe injury.
Midseason MVP: Johnson was probably the call before he disappeared against the Jets. Overall, Suh has been the Lions' best player so far this season. Honorable mention goes to Vanden Bosch, whom I credit for initiating the attitude change of the Lions' defense.
Outlook: When the season started, I would have suggested that a six-win season would be a sign of sure progress. That goal remains within reach, but it's painful to think how close the Lions are to having won four or five games already this season. Their mettle will be tested if they have to play the second half of the season without Stafford, but I think it's reasonable to expect at least three or four more victories this season.