NFL Preview - Miami (5-3) at Detroit (6-2)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - Wait a minute, who's the 6-2 team here anyway?
You'll forgive the Detroit Lions for feeling as if they've been relegated to second-tier status as they head toward a Sunday afternoon meeting with the visiting Miami Dolphins, thanks in large part to the level of dominance the 'Fins showed in a 37-0 throttling of San Diego in Week 9's biggest blowout.
It was their first shutout since 2006 and their biggest scoreboard margin since 1995.
The pristine performance left Miami atop the NFL in yards allowed per pass (5.16), yards allowed per pass play (4.68) and first downs allowed (143). Additionally, it's second in pass defense, third in total defense and fourth in rushing defense.
Still, it's the host Lions who enter with a better record and a one-game lead in the NFC North amid a three-game win streak that was at least temporarily halted by last week's bye. Detroit isn't so shabby in its own right defensively, as illustrated by its No. 1 rankings in yards allowed and points allowed.
The Lions are shorthanded for the time being with lineman Nick Fairley expected to miss four or five weeks with MCL and PCL sprains in his right knee, but it hasn't done much to temper the swagger.
Defensive tackle C.J. Mosley could pick up additional playing time in Fairley's absence, though he's been suspended by the team and subsequently reinstated since the last time he played.
"We're the top defense," safety James Ihedigbo said. "People say it. It's not something we said ourselves. That's the standard that we've set across the NFL. That's the standard we've set in this building."
Atlanta was held to 80 yards and zero points in the second half of the Lions' 22-21 win in London before the bye. The Falcons had 291 yards of total offense for the game, the fourth time a foe has failed to hit 300 - which ties Detroit for the league lead. Meanwhile, quarterback Matthew Stafford has connected with offseason acquisition Golden Tate to the tune of 55 catches and 800 yards in eight games.
Tate's role has been magnified by the injury issues being experienced by No. 1 wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who's missed three games with an ankle problem. He's probable to return this week.
Also expected back is ex-Dolphin Reggie Bush, who missed two of three games with a sprained ankle.
"(It's) good for the body," Johnson said. "Definitely fresh when I came back. It's going to be good for me this season."
Miami safety Louie Delmas will be a familiar face to the Lions, who cut him in February. He signed on the with the Dolphins, has started seven games and was named the AFC's top defensive player in Week 7 after making two tackles, recovering a fumble and picking off a pass against the Chicago Bears.
He used to cover Johnson during Detroit practices, but hopes to fare better come Sunday.
"I pretty much lost every one," he said of the one-on-one battles. "He's a heck of a player. He's one of the more talented players I've ever faced. We're talented, too. We've just got to go out there and play our game, and hopefully the best man wins."
It wasn't just defense for the Dolphins against the Chargers, though. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill notched the best single-game passer rating of his career - 125.6 - and Miami generated a season-best 441 yards of total offense while San Diego was smothered on the way to gaining just 178.
Tannehill, though, wasn't quite ready to declare it as the best game of his still-young career.
"I don't know about that," he said. "Offensively, we executed well. Guys were making plays. But we still left some plays out there."
He's completed 68 percent of his throws over the past five games, averaged 8.2 yards per attempt and compiled a 104.1 rating. Since Week 4, the Dolphins are averaging 30.6 points per game, and Tannehill has also run for 35 yards or more in each of the last five games.
"You saw where they had the wide splits on the outside, a quarterback that can run, he's throwing the ball well, backs that can move it and receivers that can run and catch," Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. "Just across the board, they give you all types of problems and difficulties. That's one of those teams that you can tell just keeps getting better and better each week."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Top of the Lines
When Dolphins right guard Mike Pouncey and Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh line up against anyone else, it's safe to chalk the matchup up as an easy win for either guy. But on the eve of a face-to-face encounter, it's a bit more difficult to forecast who's superior.
Regardless of the predictions, it's going to be a tough task for Pouncey to limit a guy who's already got 23 tackles and 3 1/2 sacks.
Though they've had a hard time getting both guys on the field at the same time, it looks like this could be the first weekend in a month in which both Johnson and Tate will line up at wide receiver, not to mention the presence of Bush out of the backfield. Miami cornerbacks Brent Grimes and Cortland Finnegan will be nothing if not busy trying to make sure Stafford doesn't start an aerial circus.
To a large extent, it comes down to who you believe in the most. Both the Lions and Dolphins have impressive marquee wins - over the Packers and Patriots, for example - alongside shared clunkers against the Bills in Weeks 2 (for Miami) and 5 (for Detroit). The extreme nature of last week's defeat of the Chargers has the pendulum swinging toward the boys from South Florida, even on the road.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Dolphins 27, Lions 24
11/09 10:56:24 ET