DETROIT -- Twelve games into his NFL career, Detroit Lions rookie defensive end Aidan Hutchinson has already experienced a roller coaster of emotions.
After a 1-6 start, the Lions’ defense ranked among the worst in the league. Then after the Week 8 loss to Miami, they shook things up -- firing defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant and trading 2020 Pro Bowl tight end T.J. Hockenson to the Minnesota Vikings.
Since then, the Lions have been rolling. They have won four of their last five games and emerged as one of the hottest teams in the league.
“It’s weird man. I feel like just me being in the NFL for this short time, it’s all about going on runs, it’s all about momentum,” Hutchinson told ESPN. “For a second there, we were down bad and now we’re on a good trajectory right now. We’ve got the playoffs in mind now, too, and it’s good having something to play for at this time of year.”
The Lions are coming off a dominant 40-14 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday. The win was validating for many inside the locker room to prove that this isn’t the 'Same Old Lions' team from years past, which stems in part from the overall confidence within the organization. The Lions feel that they’re a scary team for anyone to face ahead of hosting the NFC North-leading Vikings at Ford Field on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, Fox).
Head coach Dan Campbell is hoping the latest victory -- the Lions' second 40-point game this season -- can be a springboard for the remainder of year, with team on the bubble for a playoff spot.
With games against the Vikings, New York Jets, Carolina Panthers, Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers, FiveThirtyEight gives the Lions (5-7) an 8% chance to reach the postseason, which last happened in 2016 under former head coach Jim Caldwell.
“I think we can compete with anybody,” Campbell said. “You got to do all the things right, to win, as we all know. It doesn’t matter who we play, it doesn’t matter what the record is. If you don’t play clean enough football, you turn the ball over, you don’t get takeaways, you get a ton of penalties, then no you’re not going to win. Doesn’t matter who you play. But, when we do things right, I like our odds.”
During this final stretch, Campbell has the team dialed in on viewing this as a five-game season.
“We feel like we can, and we believe we can. Yeah, certainly. We’ve beaten good teams,” quarterback Jared Goff said of making the playoffs. “We’ve beaten teams with lesser records. We’ve dominated teams, and we’ve had our times where we’ve struggled, but in the last five games, we’ve been playing good football and taking care of the ball on offense, causing turnovers on defense, and clean in the kicking game.
“It’s a pretty good formula, and we’ve been doing that. It feels good,” he said. “That was as a complete team win as I’ve been a part of, and it was really, really well done, and proud of our guys.”