Lions using productive paranoia to surge atop the NFC North

ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) Jim Caldwell could see the Detroit Lions' latest win coming last week, well before they beat the New Orleans Saints.

In practice, they were embracing ''productive paranoia,'' a concept Caldwell has read about in Jim Collins' books and apparently passed along to his players.

''It was just one of those weeks where things were clicking along pretty well for us,'' Caldwell said Monday. ''The key is now we've got to do it again.''

The Lions beat New Orleans 28-13, their seventh win in an eight-game stretch that has dramatically changed the possibilities for this season.

Detroit (8-4) has a two-game lead in the NFC North with four games to go, putting the traditionally floundering franchise in a favorable position to win a division title for the first time since 1993. Detroit has a potential tiebreaker over the second-place Minnesota Vikings and hosts the second-place Green Bay Packers in the last game of the regular season.

''We're not worrying about first place or second place,'' safety Glover Quin said. ''We're just focusing in on the next challenge. We came in all week and our focus was clearly on the New Orleans Saints.''

The Lions seem set up to at least maintain their cushion in the NFC North with a matchup against the last-place Chicago Bears (3-9) on Sunday at Ford Field. Chicago, though, did beat the Lions 17-14 to drop them to 1-3 back when Matthew Stafford was averaging one interception per game.

Stafford isn't making many mistakes these days, throwing only one interception over eight games. He set a team record by connecting on 13 straight passes against the Saints.

Detroit's stingy defense has held four straight teams to 19 or fewer points, including keeping New Orleans more than 17 points below its scoring average. The Lions also became the first team to hold Drew Brees without a touchdown pass on his home turf in 60 games with the Saints. Special teams have been solid, too.

Detroit hasn't had a run like this since 1995 when it closed the regular season 7-1 to make the playoffs for the third straight year and the fourth time in a five-year stretch. From 1996 to 2015, the Lions have earned a spot in the postseason just four times.

Caldwell's steady leadership has helped the Lions bounce back from adversity from within games and season. And now that times are good, he is certainly not going to get caught up in the excitement among a fan base desperate for a winning NFL team to root for in the Motor City. He noted hearing and seeing a lot of Lions fans in New Orleans at his weekly news conference, but insisted he doesn't run into them in or around Detroit simply because of the hours he keeps.

''When I come in in the morning, there are very few fans that are up,'' he said. ''When I go home late at night, there are very few people that are around and most often it's only one gas station open in my area. I don't encounter very many people at that time.''

For the first time, Detroit didn't have to rally from a fourth-quarter deficit to win a game this season, leading the Saints from start to finish. The Lions ended up with their most lopsided road win in four years.

''Normally, we're in different situations in the fourth quarter so we kind of went out there with the same mentality like, `Hey, we've got to stop them,''' said Quin, who picked off one of three passes against Brees.

Caldwell cuts up the regular season into quarters, and acknowledged the final four games present a unique opportunity and challenge.

''During that time of the year, you've got to be playing your best football,'' he said.

---

For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

---

Follow Larry Lage at http://www.twitter.com/larrylage and follow his work at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/larry-lage

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide — from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Grant Wahl, Andy Staples and more — delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.