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Submitted by Richie Baccellieri on Thursday, November 10, 2016 at 10:28 AM

It’s already been a historic year in sports, between the city of Cleveland winning a championship and the Chicago Cubs taking the World Series. Could the breakthrough theme extend to the NFL? There’s another team in the Midwest, one that’s never won a Super Bowl and whose fans are desperate for something big to cheer about. I refer to the Detroit Lions—who, as it turns out, are a coming on strong in an NFC that looks wide-open.

Detroit started the season 1-3 and it looked like business as usual. On October 9, they began to turn it around and the most obvious development was that Matthew Stafford turned into a high-efficiency quarterback that could also make big plays. Here’s the rundown..

*The Lions beat the Eagles 24-23 as a (+3.5) dog. Stafford went 19/25 for 180 yards, threw three touchdown and had no interceptions.

*Detroit beat Los Angeles 31-28 as a (-2.5) favorite. Stafford was 23/21 for 270 yards, four touchdown and no picks.

*A 20-17 win over the Redskins as a (+1) dog came with Stafford going 18/29 for 266 yards with a TD and again no interceptions. He also led a late drive for a touchdown to win it.

*The Lions started getting market respect in Houston and were only a one-point road dog. They lost 20-13, but Stafford kept playing well against a very good defense. The final numbers were 27/41 for 240 yards and a touchdown.

*An improbable 22-16 overtime win at Minnesota came as a (+4.5) dog. Stafford finally threw an interception, but also a couple touchdowns and he was 23/36 for 219 yards.

That’s three outright wins as an ATS dog. Stafford has a 11-1 TD/INT ratio. His ability to throw the football has never been in question, only his capacity to avoid mistakes. Over these last five weeks, Stafford is putting it all together. He’s playing at an MVP level—that’s an award he’s currently a juicy 20-1 to win, with the market focusing on Tom Brady and Matt Ryan.

The Lions are in a tight three-way race with the Vikings and Packers for the NFC North title. In the NFC overall, this is a conference where only the Cowboys have really emerged and there are plenty of good reasons to think they’re a vulnerable leader.

Detroit is an attractive futures choice—they’re 4-1 just to win the NFC North, a better price than what’s available with Minnesota or Green Bay. The Lions are 25-1 to reach their first Super Bowl, considered only the ninth-best team in the NFC. And Detroit is 65-1 to win it all and add their name to the litany of historic championships in 2016.

But can they pull it off? Let’s assume Stafford keeps playing like he has. Whether I think he will or not is information I have to keep for clients, but for the sake of this discussion, if he doesn’t continue to play well, then there’s no point even thinking about betting Detroit.

The supporting cast really needs to step up. The defensive front seven is awful and the offensive line only marginally better. The running game has failed to produce even 100 yards over the five-game stretch we reviewed above. No matter who your quarterback is, they aren’t going to a Super Bowl having to do literally everything on their own. The wide-open nature of the NFC makes this worth keeping an eye on, but improvement is needed.

A great quarterback can carry you to a division title if there’s no great competitor though, and thus far neither Green Bay or Minnesota qualifies. Either are capable—if Aaron Rodgers finds his game or the Vikings get back on track. But right now, Stafford alone would be sufficient. NFL bettors have to decide if this surge he’s on is the real thing.

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