Enjoying just their second playoff appearance this millennium, the Detroit Lions are not disappointed in the least with their 11-5 season that puts them in Arlington in the wild-card round. They let a chance to win their first division crown since 1993 slip through their fingers last week, but now Jim Caldwell puts them in a spot to win their second playoff game since 1957 — the year of the last of Detroit’s four NFL championships.
This is the third playoff matchup between these franchises, the others a Dallas win at the Cotton Bowl in 1970 by a 5-0 margin and a forgettable January 1992 day in the Silverdome when Erik Kramer sent the young, promising Cowboys home 38-6.
The Lions feature the names Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson, and Ndamukong Suh on the marquee, but have plenty of other players who impress on tape. Here are a few to consider:
DE Ezekiel Ansah
One of the most interesting players in the 2013 draft, Ansah was the fifth pick overall after not even being a starter for a full year at BYU. Born and raised in Ghana, Ziggy tried basketball and track before walking on to play football, then he had a fantastic spring that led him to the top of the draft. His 151/2 sacks in his first two pro seasons dwarf his 41/2 in college, and he attacks left tackles with a relentless work rate and sensational power and reach. Still learning the techniques of the game — and overshadowed by his more famous teammates along the defensive line — there is no doubt his best football is still ahead of him. But his present form has exceeded most expectations, and he has even developed into a force against the run.
WR Golden Tate
The free agent signing from Seattle has enjoyed both the best individual season of his career and easily the best season of any Detroit receiver opposite Calvin Johnson. He finished the year with 99 catches, 1,331 yards and a NFL-leading (among WRs) 720 yards after the catch. He plays with a physical edge as a Hines Ward-type who looks for opportunities to run at opponents as he did to Sean Lee in Seattle in 2012 with a memorable and nasty blind-side hit. The Lions needed more weapons, and it is clear that the 5-year, $31 million deal they offered to get Tate to leave the Super Bowl champions is already paying off.
LB DeAndre Levy
When it comes to diagnosing and attacking screens and passes into the flat against running backs, very few get the job done better than Levy. He reads his keys and uses his exceptional speed to cause problems when teams try to slow down the Lions’ pass rush with a common counter. Levy is a top leader of this defense and has done a top job given that his partner in the middle was lost for the season when Stephen Tollach blew out his knee in Week 3 celebrating a sack. Levy is now one of the key blitz men for the Lions on the odd occasion they rush more than four men. He covers space and makes plenty of tackles, despite being rather unknown outside of the NFC North.