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Jared Goff and Detroit Lions prove they are among NFC’s elite in 42-17 blowout of Denver Broncos

Detroit Lions
Credit: Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

It’s time to officially welcome the Detroit Lions to the club as a legitimate NFC championship contender.

The Detroit Lions earned their membership card Saturday night with a 42-17 rout of the Denver Broncos, cooling off one of the league’s hottest teams.

The win puts the Detroit Lions (10-4) on the cusp of their first playoff berth since 2016. They will clinch by the end of Week 15 if either the Seattle Seahawks lose, or the Los Angeles Rams and the Atlanta Falcons lose, or the Rams and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lose.

Related: NFL Week 15 playoff-clinching scenarios

There were plenty of reasons to question the Lions’ status coming into the game, despite having one of the league’s best records. But the Lions answered any questions about their legitimacy behind a victory that was as thorough as the final score indicated.

Lions quarterback Jared Goff rebounded from his worst game of the season to have by far his best. He tied a career best with five touchdown passes against a Broncos defense that had allowed only four TD passes all season.

Three TD passes went to rookie tight end Sam LaPorta, who now has nine TD receptions for the season. He’s closing quickly on the NFL record for TDs by a rookie tight end, which is 12, set by Mike Ditka in 1961.

Detroit Lions took a midseason detour

The Lions were as dominant as any team in the NFL through the first half of the season. But in recent weeks, they haven’t looked the part of a legitimate contender, even though they’ve remained in the hunt for the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

They have been stuck in a funk since Thanksgiving, when they had to rally from a 12-point deficit in the final three minutes to beat Chicago.

After that, the Lions lost two of four, including last week’s 28-13 debacle against the Bears, who outscored them 18-0 in the second half and made the Lions look ordinary.

The Lions’ defense, ranked 15th in the league in yards allowed, were surrendering an average of about 30 points per game for the past five weeks. And the NFL’s No. 3 ranked gained a mere 267 yards against the Bears.

But Saturday night, the Lions looked like they rectified their issues and turned in one of their most complete games of the season.

They churned out 448 yards and averaged seven yards per offensive play, getting production out of both the passing game and the running game, with Jahmyr Gibbs and David Montgomery combining for 185 yards on the ground. And the defense stifled Russell Wilson and the Broncos’ offense, holding them to 287 total yards.

Detroit Lions’ path to the No. 1 seed

The Detroit Lions still have a shot at the No. 1 seed in the NFC, but they’ll need some help along the way. Three teams, including the top-seed San Francisco 49ers, own a one-game edge over the Lions, and Detroit would need them to stumble over the final four weeks.

The Lions finish with two games against the Minnesota Vikings that sandwich a Week 17 showdown against the Cowboys in Dallas. They can single-handedly eliminate the Cowboys from the No. 1 race with a victory, although the Cowboys are 7-0 at AT&T Stadium this season.

The 49ers’ biggest test along the way will be a Christmas night game against the AFC-leading Baltimore Ravens. Otherwise, the 49ers play Arizona on Sunday, and Washington and the LA Rams over the final two weeks.

The Eagles might have the easiest schedule of the NFC contenders, with Seattle on Monday night, two games against the New York Giants, and one against Arizona.

The Lions, who are currently the No. 3 seed in the NFC, just need to do their part – win every game along the way, and then hope for the best.

But regardless of where they place in the NFC playoff picture, the Lions have proven to be a team that shouldn’t be overlooked.

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