When the Detroit Lions visit the Green Bay Packers next weekend in the regular season finale, a lot of things will, or might, be at stake.
Though at home the Lions defeated the Packers earlier in the season, it really doesn't matter at this point. With identical 11-4 records going in -- one is going to be 12-4 and the other 11-5 when it's over.
The Lions haven't won in Green Bay since 1991. That was way back in the pre-Billary days when Daddy Bush was still President and talking about his "thousand points of light". Nobody ever figured out what the hell he was talking about, and the Lions haven't figured out the Packers at Lambeau in the meantime either. Twenty three years is quite a while for any particular losing streak.
The NFC North division championship will be up for grabs. Both teams have already qualified for the playoffs, but the difference between winning the division and merely getting a wild-card spot is huge -- especially for the Lions. Consider the different scenarios.
If the Lions lose that game (and they'll certainly be at least slight underdogs) they would become a wild card team. That would dictate a road game the following week (wild card teams can't play at home -- even if their record is better than the division champion they're facing). It's been done, but getting to the Super Bowl as a wild card team is a mighty tough road. More importantly, being a wild card team means they have to play an "extra" game. After a grueling regular season, ANY team would dearly love to have a week off to lick their wounds and heal up a bit. Which brings me to the other scenario----
If the Lions can finally break the Lambeau jinx and defeat the Packers, not only would they be division champs, but have a very good shot at becoming the overall #2 NFC seed. If THAT were to play out, they'd get a bye in the first week of the playoffs and have home field advantage the following week against an opponent to be determined. How big would THAT be? The Honolulu blue and silver faithful would rock the house down at Ford Field.
Coincidentally, this would be the Lions' first home playoff victory since 1991, the very same year they last beat the Packers at Lambeau. And also the same season they trashed the Dallas Cowboys 38-6 at their former Silverdome home for the only playoff win in their long history. Yours truly was there for that game, and I've never heard anything louder in my life. The excitement and electricity in the air were incredible. Alas, the Lions would get trashed 41-10 by the Washington Redskins the following week in the NFC championship game.
To their credit, sort of, from 1994 until 2000 the Lions would play six more playoff games, five on the road -- and lose every one of them. All-time great Barry Sanders had given up on them following the 1998 season, walking away from $8 million (in 1999 dollars) into retirement because he didn't foresee the Lions reaching the Super Bowl any year soon. Barry not only got out with his brain and body intact, he was more prophetic than he knew.
Beginning in 2001 (enter Matt Millen calling all the shots) the Lions had one of the worst decades in sports history, culminating with the disgraceful record-setting 0-16 season in 2008. Overall, they were a pitiful 39-111. Bad drafts, a parade of clown coaches, a clueless front office, and oblivious ownership will get you there. They had become a laughingstock. A punchline for late night TV talk show comedians.
Yet as they say, every dog has his day eventually. It might take over a half century, which would make it by far the world's oldest dog not named the Chicago Cubs, and a few hundred million people never lived long enough to see it happen.
But maybe, just maybe, this is "the year" for the Lions. Everything has worked out in their favor so far.
Did I mention the game in Green Bay is huge?