The good news is, the Detroit Lions control their own destiny. The bad news is, the Detroit Lions control their own destiny.
For most NFL teams, a two-game division lead with four games to play is an enviable position to be in.
But these are the Lions, and even they know their greatest fear is what they see when they look in the mirror.
“We’re a pretty tough team,” running back Reggie Bush said after Thursday’s victory over the Green Bay Packers, “if we get out of our own way.”
Rarely has a more honest appraisal ever been made by a Lions player.
The Lions are staring their first divisional title in 20 years smack in the face. Now, we’ll see if they blink.
You can’t be set up much better to win a division and host a playoff game than the Lions are now.
They are 7-5, and the closest team to them, the Chicago Bears, are 6-6 but the Lions have beaten the Bears twice. So the one-game lead in the standings is really two.
If this was a baseball pennant race, you’d say that the Lions’ magic number is three—that combination of Lions wins and Bears losses needed to clinch the NFC North.
The four games remaining in front of the Lions is a mixed bag of winnable and treachery. It’s either a mine field or a walk in the park. The Lions could win all four, or lose all four. The opponents, as a whole, are like one of those optical illusions that you look at and can see several different things, if you look long enough.
This is rarefied air for the Lions. They simply don’t do these bits.
Leading the division, with four games to play? In the proverbial driver’s seat?
The Lions are headed down the final stretch, and all they need to do is not drop the baton.
The last time the Lions hosted a playoff game, the game was played in the Silverdome and Andre Ware was on the roster and Brett Favre was in his second season.
Hard core Lions fans remember how that one ended.
The Packers were the opponents, and the visual of Sterling Sharpe standing alone in the end zone as Favre’s pass floated in the air toward no. 84 in white, in the game’s final moments, still haunts.
Every playoff game the Lions have played in since (five of them), has been played on the road.
They’ve lost them all, by the way. Which should be no surprise for a franchise that has tallied just one playoff victory in the past 56 years—and none in the city of Detroit.
That could change this year. Or, it could be a season that ends in heartbreak.
Twelve games have been played, and it’s anyone’s guess what kind of team the Lions are.
Are they the class of their division, or are they somewhere in the middle? Is a playoff berth a certainty, or is it a fantasy?
Is this one of the best Lions teams in years, or is it just another one made of paper?
These questions, and more, will be answered in December.
The Lions have games remaining in Philadelphia and Minnesota, and at home against the Baltimore Ravens and the New York Giants.
Look at that sentence again. Now, close your eyes, open them, and look at it again.
In fact, do that a few times. Each time, you’ll look at those opponents differently.
Bush was right; when the Lions get “out of their own way,” they can be pretty good.
The defense, on Thanksgiving against the Packers, made some old-timers harken back to the 1962 Turkey Day game, when the Lions defense spent the afternoon in the Packers backfield and in quarterback Bart Starr’s face.
The offense was dynamic against Green Bay. It racked up 561 total yards. The Packers had no clue how to stop the Lions.
But there were three more Lions turnovers on Thanksgiving, after five against the Tampa Bay Bucs just four days earlier. Bush, who had foolishly promised a couple weeks ago not to fumble again this season, coughed up the football on Thursday’s opening possession, killing a promising drive inside the 20 yard line.
Matthew Stafford, the baby-faced gunslinger, slung two more interceptions against the Pack after throwing three of them against the Bucs.
Neither Bay—Tampa or Green—had any inkling of how to slow the Lions offense down, much less stop it.
It was only when the Lions stubbed their toe, that the other guys had a chance.
The Bucs, 2-8 heading into their game against Detroit, needed every one of those five turnovers and a blocked punt to escape last Sunday with a victory. The Packers were able to hang with the Lions for a half, despite stats that were as crooked as a judge on the take. Why? Turnovers and a missed chip shot field goal.
The Lions got out of their own way in the second half against Green Bay, and so did the Packers.
The Lions played like champions on Thanksgiving Day, once they gathered themselves.
Now we are about to see if the Lions can act like champions in the season’s final month.
That is, can they take this division that is being served up on a platter, and devour it? Or will they gag on it?
The Lions’ logo on their helmets ought to be a Honolulu Blue and Silver question mark.
A season that an optimist figured would go 8-8, is now looking like it could be a 10-6 and division-wining one.
Or, it could crumble before our very eyes.
The Lions have four games left. They have a division in their paws. A playoff game at Ford Field beckons.
Place your bets—if you dare.