Lions vs. Steelers 2013 game preview: Will Detroit stay atop the NFC North?

After knocking off Chicago, the Lions are in control of the NFC North. Will they be able to win in Pittsburgh and maintain their lead?

The Detroit Lions are now alone atop the NFC North and will have an opportunity to pick up a key road win when they travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers.

At 6-3, the Lions have a one-game lead over Chicago and Green Bay in the division race. Four of Detroit's final six games will come at home, so adding a road win in Pittsburgh would put the Lions in very good position for the playoffs. Detroit is 3-2 on the road this season, one of the main reasons it currently leads the division.

The 2013 season has gone the opposite direction for Pittsburgh. The Steelers are just 3-6, but are coming off a 23-10 win over Buffalo. The once-stout defense has had plenty of issues this season and Pittsburgh ranks near the bottom-third of the NFL in points allowed.

Sunday's meeting will be just the fourth game between the two teams since 2001; Pittsburgh is 3-0 in the previous three contests.

Meet the Steelers

Between injuries and ineffectiveness, not much has gone right for the Steelers this season. They have long been known for running the football well and playing stout defense against the run. Neither could be further from the truth this season.

The Steelers are just 27th in the NFL in rushing yards per game and are allowing the fourth-most yards on the ground on defense. Pittsburgh's defense has been up and down all season. It has played well at times, but has been decimated at others, including a 55-31 loss to New England two weeks ago.

The offense has also had its share of issues. The Steelers are averaging just 19.9 points per game, 25th in the league. Not only are the Steelers not averaging many rushing yards per game, they are 28th in the NFL in yards per attempt. On top of it all, they are last in the AFC with a minus-11 turnover differential.

Meet the Lions

Coming off a huge road win against Chicago, Detroit is in terrific position to win the NFC North. Five of its final seven games come against teams with a losing record. The biggest game left on the schedule will be in Week 13 against Green Bay and the Lions will play at home and possibly against a Packers team without Aaron Rodgers.

The offense is the key for the Lions, who have not had a lot of success defensively this season. They rank below Pittsburgh in several defensive categories, but Matthew Stafford and company make up for a lot of the faults. The Lions have scored at least 21 points in eight of their nine games this season. Their 6-3 record hasn't come easy, but they've come out on top in a few close games with a 4-2 record in games decided by one possession.

Although Detroit has allowed the 27th-most passing yards per game, it has fared well against the run and is No. 8 in rushing defense.

Local Takes: Pittsburgh

It's been a rough season for the Steelers, but Pittsburgh did rebound well against Buffalo, as Behind the Steel Curtain wrote:

One of the oldest, and truest, axioms in coaching is that you are never as bad as you think your are, and you are never as good as you think you are. After falling to a historic low defensively against the Patriots, the Steelers rebounded nicely and dominated the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.

Local Takes: Detroit

Based on its record alone, it seems Detroit should cruise to a win over Pittsburgh, but Sean Yuille of Pride of Detroit cautions the Steelers have been playing much better recently:

Since starting 0-4, the Steelers have been playing much better. They've won three of their last five games and shut down the offenses of the Jets, Ravens and Bills in the process. None of those teams have an offense like the Lions, but Pittsburgh has at least showed an ability to win games over the course of the last month. That wasn't the case for the first month of the season.

Follow the Fun

Be sure to check out SB Nation's team blogs, Behind the Steel Curtain and Pride Of Detroit, for more analysis and highlights from the game.

Add these fine follows to your Twitter timeline:

@btsteelcurtain

@PrideOfDetroit

@dlolleyor -- Steelers beat writer

@ttwentyman -- Lions beat writer

Prediction

Neither defense has been very good this season, so it wouldn't be a major surprise to see the game turn into a battle of the offenses. If that is indeed the case, Detroit holds a massive advantage. The Lions average nearly a touchdown more per game than the Steelers and are dangerous on the ground and through the air.

Not many offenses can keep pace with Detroit in a shootout and nothing about the Steelers' performance this season says they will be able to.

Pick: Detroit, 31-17

Odds

Despite having a significant advantage in the win column, Detroit was favored by just three points in the opening odds, according to OddsShark.com.

Next Week

Week 12: Lions vs. Tampa Bay, 1 p.m. ET

Week 12: Steelers at Cleveland, 1 p.m. ET

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