49ers vs. Lions: Why Detroit Can't Afford a Letdown vs. San Francisco

Dean Holden@@Dean_HoldenAnalyst IOctober 13, 2011

Jahvid Best was an integral part of the Lions' win over the Bears. Was it a breakout performance, or a fluke?
Jahvid Best was an integral part of the Lions' win over the Bears. Was it a breakout performance, or a fluke?Leon Halip/Getty Images

Maybe it's just me, but it certainly seems that while the Detroit Lions are 5-0, it really doesn't feel like 5-0.

Maybe I've just forgotten what it feels like to lose. It has been more than 10 months since the last time the Detroit Lions lost a game of any kind. But I have a feeling that Lions fans will be the last group of people convinced that they're actually 5-0 good.

And it hasn't gotten old yet. The Lions have been mixing it up by winning different types of games. They've executed second-half comebacks, squashed second-half comebacks, won blowouts and most recently won a game they dominated everywhere except the scoreboard.

San Francisco is coming to town to help Lions fans remember what a loss feels like, and they could be catching the Lions at a good time. Not only are the Lions on a short week, but they're coming off a big Monday Night win over the hated division rival Bears.

That game was quite possibly the most complete of the season. It wasn't perfect by any means, but it was the first of the season in which it didn't look like the Lions were compensating for a major weakness. That's not to say the weaknesses aren't there, but they were less glaring than they have been.

Now, I bet Jim Schwartz feels differently. He's never one to sit back and relax after a game, win or lose. Even in his postgame press conference in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, he was already talking about being "a day behind" in prepping for the 49ers.

That's not a lazy coach talking. That's a blue-collar guy who has his team, his fanbase and a good portion of the rest of the league believing that this undefeated team has yet to play its best football.

Of course, for that to come to fruition, the Lions have to continue to get better, and that starts with beating the San Francisco 49ers this weekend.

The 49ers are almost without question the strongest team the Lions will have played so far this year. Previously, you might have thought that was the Tampa Bay Bucs.

But then you would be talking about the same Tampa Bay Bucs that just lost 48-3 to the 49ers.

Of course, strong play and records aside, both the Lions and 49ers are good teams that haven't yet been truly tested. The 49ers and Lions have both beaten a collection of teams that are somewhere between terrible, underachieving, and unproven.

Both teams have played the Dallas Cowboys and the Bucs. The Lions earned a comeback win against the 'Boys on the road, the 49ers suffered their only loss in come-from-ahead fashion at home.

But where the Lions eked out a win against the Bucs after weathering a second-half comeback on the road, the 49ers curb-stomped them 48-3 at home.

So who has the edge? Is one team more "real" than the other? Who can we start surrounding with playoff talk?

That's what makes this game so compelling.

Ultimately, this is one of those games where the winner is going to be the Cinderella darling, and the loser will be bombarded with questions about whether they're contenders or posers. Those questions will be blatant overreactions, because we all know the best teams are the ones that bounce back after a big loss, but that's how it works.

This is the kind of thing the Lions don't want to see this Sunday.
This is the kind of thing the Lions don't want to see this Sunday.Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

But that's still how it works. If the Lions lose this game, the questions will start flooding in. The level of competition they've beat will come into question. Flaws will be magnified. Those 20-point comebacks will start looking like flukes instead of the efforts of a team that refuses to lose.

Of course, those questions will all go away with a little more winning, but why even deal with them in the first place when you can just win and keep the gravy train rolling?

Besides, the Lions' schedule doesn't exactly get easier after this. They welcome the Atlanta Falcons, who nobody can quite place (they should be good, so why aren't they?), before getting two bye weeks (one against the Tim Tebow-led Broncos, one week off) and a rematch against the Bears at Soldier Field, which Matthew Stafford has never left under his own power.

After that, the Lions get the Panthers, who don't win much, but have put scares into the Bears and Packers this year.

Then comes Thanksgiving. The current combined records of the teams the Lions play from Thanksgiving on is 18-7.

That's the 5-0 Green Bay Packers twice, the 4-1 New Orleans Saints and San Diego Chargers, the 3-2 Oakland Raiders (in Oakland) and the 1-4 Minnesota Vikings.

The point here is that the remainder of the schedule isn't exactly loaded with gimmes. Five wins isn't enough to make the playoffs, and this game might turn out to be one of the most winnable games left on the schedule (not that every game isn't winnable for this team).

Good teams beat the teams they're supposed to beat. Going into this game, nobody knows which team is the "good," one and which team is "supposed to" get beat.

The Lions can answer both questions with a strong performance this Sunday.


    Which Free-Agents Found the Best Homes?

    NFL logo

    Which Free-Agents Found the Best Homes?

    via Profootballfocus

    The Jets Changed the Entire Complexion of This NFL Draft

    NFL logo

    The Jets Changed the Entire Complexion of This NFL Draft

    The Ringer
    via The Ringer

    Fresh NFL Mock Draft After Jets Trade Up

    Detroit Lions logo
    Detroit Lions

    Fresh NFL Mock Draft After Jets Trade Up

    Brent Sobleski
    via Bleacher Report

    Are Jaguars the Favorite in the AFC in 2018?

    NFL logo

    Are Jaguars the Favorite in the AFC in 2018?

    Michael DiRocco
    via ESPN.com