ALLEN PARK, Mich. — The Detroit Lions are leading the NFC in something and, for a nice change, it’s nothing to cringe about.
Detroit has scored a conference-high 126 points this season despite playing without franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford since Week 1 and missing wide receiver Nate Burleson for two-plus games.
“Without sounding too cocky, it’s somewhat of a confirmation of what we believed would happen,” Burleson said Thursday, the same day he was fined $15,000 for excessively celebrating a touchdown. “I just knew with the talent and depth that we have that we could do something special. I didn’t think it would happen this season. Now, it gives us motivation to keep that title.”
It won’t be easy.
Detroit will play Sunday on the road against the New York Giants, who are No. 1 in the NFL in total defense and are the top-ranked team against the pass.
The Lions may have receiver Calvin Johnson in the lineup because he seemed to be able to do more Thursday than he did in Wednesday’s workout.
“It’s real encouraging, but it’s not the telltale to whether I play or not on Sunday,” said Johnson, who hurt his right shoulder in a 44-6 win Sunday over St. Louis.
Stafford is expected to miss his fifth straight game with a separated right shoulder and insisted he doesn’t know when he will be able to practice.
“I’m feeling pretty good,” Stafford said. “I’m getting better.”
The Lions have gotten better, too, playing closely contested games after routinely getting routed last year. They have a potent offense, stout defensive line and good special teams.
They will need everything clicking to upset the double-digit favorite Giants. Coach Jim Schwartz will be watching one facet of the game in particular for an indicator of their success.
“One of the big matchups this week is our protection versus their pass rush,” Schwartz said. “We need to do a good job there to have a chance to win.”
Some predicated the Lions wouldn’t have a chance to beat anybody without Stafford, but Shaun Hill has proved he can compete.
Hill threw for 227 yards and three touchdowns in the rout over the Rams. He has connected on 61 percent of his passes for 1,218 yards with eight scores and seven interceptions in relief of Stafford.
He has turned out to be a savvy acquisition by the Lions, who traded an undisclosed draft pick to the San Francisco 49ers for him during the offseason.
“When they went out and got Shaun, they were looking for starting experience,” offensive tackle Jeff Backus said. “He’s a tremendous competitor and leader. We haven’t missed a beat with him taking over.”
Hill and the Lions are happy they’re leading the NFC in scoring, but they’ll be even more enthusiastic if they can go into next week’s bye week with a two-game winning streak.
“It’s always good to improve on stats and stuff like that, but we know what the big picture is and that’s wins,” center Dominic Raiola said. “But it does say something about where we’re moving to, starting to show up in some categories.”
If Detroit loses its 24th straight road game, it will match an NFL record the franchise set from 2001 to 2003.
“It hasn’t been mentioned,” Burleson said. “We’re going to New York to win and hopefully we’ll end the streak Sunday.”