Cinderella Versus Cinderella

This Sunday we are treated to a matchup of two of the biggest positive surprises of the NFL season so far – the 4-1 San Francisco 49ers will be heading east to take on the 5-0 Detroit Lions.

Both the Lions and 49ers were 6-10 last season, but they are a combined 9-1 this season, going from a 0.375 winning percentage to 0.900.

The 49ers season was so disappointing last year that head coach Mike Singletary was fired and replaced with Stanford’s Jim Harbaugh.  Not much was expected of the 49ers in Harbaugh’s first season, as they made relatively few personnel changes from last year’s 6-10 squad.  But apparently Harbaugh saw something in these players that the rest of the league didn’t.

The 49ers have put together quality wins against Philadelphia, Cincinnati and Seattle, plus a tough overtime loss to the Cowboys on one of Tony Romo’s more heroic outings.  And for those that were doubting going into last weekend, the 49ers dismantled a Buccaneers team that was 3-1 at the time, by a score of 48-3.

They held the Bucs to under 200 yards passing and under 100 yards rushing, while amassing over 200 yards of rushing.  Four-time Pro Bowl linebacker Patrick Willis was NFC Defensive Player of the Week with 18 tackles and a fumble recovery.  Much-maligned quarterback Alex Smith threw 3 TD passes and Frank Gore ran for 125 yards and one TD.

The 49ers are for real, but are they ready for the Lions?

The Lions are a little less of a surprise, as they started to gel at the end of last season.  They won their final four games last season, and they hold the distinction of being the last team to beat the Green Bay Packers, in a tough 7-3 victory in December in which they knocked Aaron Rodgers out of the game.

his year, the Lions have looked nearly unstoppable at times.  The defense seems to have taken Ndamukong Suh’s preseason goal seriously, where Suh said in August, “It’s gone from the point of, ‘You’ve earned the respect and (now it’s to) earn fear.’ “

The Lions defense put the fear into Chicago last Monday night, where the Bears offensive line jumped offsides nine times.  Considering that they ran about 60 offensive plays, that’s a pretty impressive ratio.

Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson, aka Megatron, have developed the chemistry to be one of the top quarterback-receiver combinations in the league.  (I would say THE top, but New England’s Brady and Welker have been having a pretty ok season themselves.)

But the Lions have looked beatable at times, too, dropping behind early against Tampa Bay, Minnesota and Dallas before storming back.

The Lions will decide their fate in the air with Stafford and Johnson.  They take their 24th ranked rushing attack against the 49ers 4th ranked rushing defense, so don’t expect another career day from Jahvid Best.  The Lions have the 7th ranked passing attack in the league, and the 49ers are 23rd at stopping the pass, so that’s where there is likely to be some bloodshed.

The 49ers have run the ball very effectively this year, and that’s what they’ll have to do to slow down the Lions pass rush and keep Suh from swallowing Alex Smith whole.  Suh has two sacks this year, but seems to spend most of the game in the opposition’s backfield.

The oddsmakers favor the Lions, who are four point favorites, and that’s tough to argue with, but with two teams who have both posted exciting comeback wins this year, it may all come down to who gets hot late in the game.  This figures to be the game of the weekend.

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