By Jonathan Comey
Cold, Hard Football Facts rock star
 
If it weren't for the run-it-up, evil-oozing Patriots and the all-American, class-oozing Colts, both undefeated, the story of the NFL season so far would be the Detroit Lions.
 
There's still plenty of time for the Lions to fall short of QB Jon Kitna's 10-win prophecy. But they are halfway there at 5-2.
 
For those of you needing a refresher on just how bad the Lions have been, here are some pertinent facts:
  • From 2001-06, they went 24-72 (.250).
  • During that span, they were 5-43 (.083) on the road.
  • They had two winning streaks, both of the two-game variety.
  • They had an incredible 12-38 (.240) record in close games (TD or less).
  • With their six top-10 draft picks, they chose four wide receivers and a QB, only two of whom are still on the roster.
  • Their once-proud running game ranked 28th, 29th, 32nd, 19th, 26th, and 32nd in total rushing yards.
Yep. The only thing more consistent than the Colts and Patriots over the past six years has been the predictable futility of the Lions.
 
Yet the Lions, who have  made it to the NFL's final four only once in the last 50 seasons (1991, a 41-10 loss to Washington in the NFC title game), are in pretty good shape as we near the season's halfway point.
 
They're 5-2, which could be tied for the NFC North lead if Green Bay loses at Denver tonight.
 
So, how are they doing it? And can they keep it up?
 
The answers: we're not quite sure, and probably not.
 
Statistically, Detroit's not doing much well. The Lions are -22 in scoring differential despite their 5-2 record, a number that puts them behind 2-5 Oakland (-18) and 2-5 Minnesota (-6). This scoring disparity comes thanks to big losses to the Redskins (34-3) and Eagles (56-21), not coincidentally two of the better teams on their early schedule.
 
Detroit's seven opponents this season are a combined 19-25 (.422), not including the games vs. the Lions. Meanwhile, their nine remaining opponents are 41-24, a whopping .631 winning percentage. Detroit's current level of play won't get it done against that crew.
 
While Detroit does have the most Big Plays in the NFL (33, according to our Big Play Index that tracks such things), they have also allowed 29 Big Plays. And that's against a schedule made up of lesser lights.
 
The offense is a solid No. 12 in yards per play (5.4), but they allow 5.3 per play on defense (17th) and have been outgained by almost 300 yards. The Lions are also last in the NFL in third-down conversions (30 percent) and sacks allowed (35; eight more than the next-worst Eagles, and 22 more than Indy and New England combined).
 
In short, Detroit is a mediocre team with a good record, but with obvious flaws and a tough schedule ahead. But the Lions at least have a pretty good shot at finishing .500, and that's something for this organization. And with the Bears and Vikings looking out of it, the Lions could be in position to make the postseason with a Green Bay stumble.
 
Someone sign GM Matt Millen to a 10-year extension before someone else snaps him up!
 
SAINTS STILL MARCHING
Oh, remember when we said the Saints had an infitessimal chance to reach the postseason this year? Here's a link, in case you forgot. 
 
Guess the Cold, Hard Football Facts were wrong there.
 
We noted in that piece that the last team to open the season with three losses of 17+ points was the 2001 Bills, who finished 3-13. We also noted that the last team to make the playoffs after starting 0-3 was the 1998 Bills, who had Doug Flutie and thus always a chance.
 
And those odds for the Saints got longer when they fell to 0-4: the only team to make the playoffs from an 0-4 hole in the 12-team playoff era was the 1992 Chargers.
 
But here they stand, one game out of first place in the NFC South.
 
The division leader, Carolina, will play some combination of Davinny Carrstaverde at QB the rest of the way, which doesn't seem promising. And while Tampa has played well against a tough schedule (4-4 overall; 2-4 vs. Quality Opponents), the Bucs are also coming off a 4-12 season and feature an old core for the second half of the season.
 
Quite a turnaround for those Saints.
 
The difference hasn't been tough to spot: 12.5 PPG in their first four games, 27 PPG in their last three; 29.8 PPG allowed in the first four, 14.3 allowed in their last three.
 
The path to redemption is pretty clear for the Saints as well. They have just two Quality Opponents left on the schedule: Jacksonville at home this Sunday, then a road game at Carolina in Week 12.
 
RB Reggie Bush is still underwhelming (3.5 rush average, paltry 5.1 receiving average), but Drew Brees has eight TDs to one INT over the win streak, and all seems to be right again with the Saints offense. Amazing.
 
PATRIOTS, COLTS THROW OFF THE NFL's EQUILIBRIUM
Between them, the Patriots and Colts have outscored opponents by a total of 326 points this season. Because of this utter domination, pretty much the entire NFL has all been relegated to mediocre status.
 
Only 13 teams have outscored their opponents for the season, while 19 have allowed more points than they've scored – including five teams with winning records.
 
Among the NFL's 11 other teams who have scored more points than they've surrendered, the total scoring differential is +399 - just 73 points more than they margin by which Indy and NE have outscored their opponents alone.
 
The NFC West, which is terrible as usual, hasn't had to play the Colts or the Patriots, yet they're somehow managing to be collectively outscored by 179 points in 23 non-division games (7.78 PPG).
 
FIVE FREAKISH PATRIOTS STATS
  1. The Patriots have scored 43 touchdowns ... only five less than the entire NFC West. (They need 28 TD to break the record 70 scored by the 1984 Dolphins.)
  2. LB Mike Vrabel has more receiving TDs (2) this season than the team's former No. 1 wideout Deion Branch (1).
  3. Tom Brady has personally accounted for more TDs (32) than any entire team in the NFL.
  4. Counting Vrabel's contributions, Patriots tight ends have scored 10 touchdowns – as many as the total team outputs for playoff-chasing Baltimore (4-3) and Kansas City (4-3).
  5. Including the 2006 playoffs, the Patriots have scored 34 points or more in 14 of their last 16 games.  
FIVE LESS FREAKISH BUT STILL PRETTY AMAZING COLTS STATS
  1. The Colts have won each of their last four games by 18 points or more.
  2. Including playoffs, the Colts have held five of their last 11 opponents to 10 points or fewer; from the end of 2005 through 2006, they failed to hold a team to 10 points or fewer in 21 consecutive games.
  3. Backup QB Jim Sorgi has a career passer rating of 98.32 in four years as Peyton Manning's caddy (93 big attempts).
  4. Since the start of 2003, Manning has been sacked 67 times in 70 regular season games – less than AFC South mate David Carr was sacked in 2002 alone (72).
  5. Bob Sanders is 29-5 as a starter with the Colts.  
AFC TO NFC: OK, THAT'S ENOUGH NOW
Week 8 was the NFC's big chance to lay claim to respectability, and they failed like a Troll at the Playboy Mansion (we know, we've been there ... and we failed).
 
Then-4-2 Carolina played tough for awhile at home vs. Indy, but ended up getting crushed 31-7. And 4-2 Washington, well, they didn't even leave Foxboro with their dignity after a 52-7 defeat.
 
Then there was Tampa Bay, which had scored one for the NFC by beating Tennessee a couple weeks ago, but lost at home yesterday to a Jacksonville team led by Quinn Gray, Medicine Woman.
 
In addition, the Giants barely beat winless Miami, while Cleveland won in St. Louis, leaving the AFC up 18-13 in interconference play. Overall, Quality Teams from the AFC are 16-3 vs. the NFC, while Quality Teams from the NFC are 8-6 vs. the AFC.
 
NOW DRAFTING FIRST ... THE NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS?
In case you're following things like the 2008 NFL Draft, the Patriots forfeited their No. 1 pick thanks to Spygate.
 
But they do have San Francisco's No. 1 pick.
 
And the 49ers look every bit like the worst team in the league right now. Their coach is on the hot seat despite his sharp suits, their kicker is flipping off the fans, and they're 2-5 after five straight losses.
 
The Niners have been outscored by the same amount as the 0-8 Dolphins (78 points), but in one fewer game. They've yet to top 20 points in a game all year, and play four of their next five on the road.
 
If the Rams can win in San Francisco on Nov. 18, and the Dolphins can win a couple against their AFC East bottom-feeding brethren ... the Patriots might enter the 2008 draft with their fourth Super Bowl rings and the No. 1 pick on the board.
 
QUOTABLES
Old-schoolers like former Colts linebacker Mike Curtis would have killed the guy, but a streaker in the Giants-Dolphins game was allowed to let his freak flag fly for almost a minute before being ushered off by security. "I don't think an NFL player tackling a half-naked guy was going to be a good look," Giants DE Justin Tuck told reporters. "So they just backed off and let him do his thing."
 
Bill Belichick to NBCSports.com's Tom Curran, on running-up-the-score talk. "When I was coaching defense it was my job to keep the score down, not theirs. When you're playing defense it's your job to stop them. It's not (the offense's) job to not score. It's like I tell the offense, what the (bleep) do you think I send you guys out there for? To punt? We have a punt team for that. That's not your job. Your job is to go out there and score points. If you come off the field and you haven't scored points you haven't done your job." You tell em, Bill.  
 
Cedric Benson on the haters swirling around the Windy City: "I've been hearing a lot of people criticize and talk stuff. They're not watching the games or the plays. They're just throwing out criticism. Do I need to run with more of a burst? No. And [expletive] them. So I guess I'm getting to the hole and walking through the hole, right?" Benson averages 3.1 yards per carry.
 
From Houston Chronicle writer John McClain, on the Texans: "Who are these guys? Who are these guys who have rolled over like lazy dogs, allowing touchdowns on offense, defense and special teams? They've embarrassed themselves, the organization and their city." Easy, bud. These are still the Texans. BTW, loved you in "Die Hard."