It certainly appears as if the long forlorn Detroit Lions will make the playoffs this year. Barring a complete collapse down the stretch, and even if that happened, they should make it into the postseason. Is it because the Lions are playing outstanding ball? Not really. They've been fortunate on a number of fronts, not the least being having many breaks go their way and a rather easy schedule, but more importantly, the NFC as a whole. Consider the competition ---
At 8-4, the NY Giants record is deceiving. They're a slightly better than average team, but at times Eli doesn't seem to know whether he's coming or going, Odell is a wonderfully gifted if childish, tantrum prone wide receiver, and the defense surely ain't what it used to be. Grade B-
The Redskins putting the franchise tag on otherwise mediocre quarterback Kirk Cousins speaks volumes that they don't have star power anywhere else. Grade C
In Philly they started off hot. But a new coach, which means a new system and coordinators, combined with a rookie quarterback in Wentz was bound to catch up with them. It has. Grade D
Like the Eagles, Atlanta jumped out of the gate. But we all know the Falcons have long been prone to late season swoons and early exits from the playoffs. It's happening again. Grade C
Sean Payton may be the highest paid coach in the league, and Drew Brees a future shoo-in for the Hall of Fame. Yet the New Orleans Saints have been trending downwards since the heady days of Bountygate. Things will only get worse. Grade C-
The Tampa Bay Bucs are capable of playing well on occasion. They're also capable of stinking it up. Does anybody seriously consider these guys to be contenders? Please. Grade C-
Cam and the Carolina Panthers have taken a nosedive since the Super Bowl beatdown they suffered 10 months ago. From penthouse to outhouse in a hurry. Grade D-
Not long ago, the Arizona Cardinals were considered as an elite team. No more. Coach Bruce Ariens' mind-numbing game mismanagement and otherwise sub-par performances from many of their players have brought them back down on the express elevator. Grade D
The recently re-transplanted LA Rams are trying to find their way in la-la-land. It appears their GPS system has totally winked out. These guys are not good. Grade D
And speaking of terrible, the San Fran 49ers epitomize it. Since Jim Harbaugh left, the Bay Boys make Pepe LePew smell like $500 an ounce perfume. Grade Z.
The Minnesota Vikings got it done with smoke and mirrors for a while, but like Philly, it was a train wreck waiting to happen. With QB Teddy Bridgewater going down, then superstud running back Adrian Petersen, combined with a mishmash ineffective offensive line and no better than average defense, it was only a matter of time as well before they headed south. It has come to pass. Grade C-.
Something strange happened in Green Bay and it isn't good for the cheeseheads. The Packers have become decidedly mediocre at best. True, they've had their share of injuries and seen key players bail to free agency, but the standard of excellence in Packerland is sorely being tested. Grade C
What can you say about Chicago? It's another year of Da Bears. Not pretty. Grade D-
You will note a few teams have been omitted from the above. In no particular order, consider---
The Seattle Seahawks. After a sluggish start, they appear to be rounding into the fearsome bunch we have all come to love -- or hate. At any rate, these guys are the real deal, have the been there done that factor on their resume, and will be a tough out in the postseason. Who needs Marshawn Lynch when Thomas Rawls can step in and be as good, if not better? Combine that with the rest of their cast of characters, on both sides of the ball, and another trip to the Super Bowl is definitely a possibility. Grade A-
Down in Big D, after losing their opener, the Cowboys have ripped off 11 wins in row. Color Tony Romo gone. Dak Prescott has future star written all over him. Remember when they lost the league's leading running back, Demarco Murray to free agency not long ago? Enter rookie Buckeye Ezekiel Elliot to more than fill the void. With their usual mammoth and efficient offensive line, weapons like Dez Bryant and Jason Witten to throw to, and a pretty stout defense, it appears the one-time so-called America's team is back. Oh yeah, throw in one of the best placekickers in the league, Dan Bailey, to boot, no pun intended. At 11-1, they've all but sewn up home field advantage in the playoffs. Beating them in Jerry Jones's palace will be a formidable task. Grade A
That leaves the Detroit Lions. At 8-4, they've certainly exceeded the expectations of just about everybody. Most of the pundits figured them to be a 5-11, maybe 6-10 team in early predictions.
So how has it come to pass that they sit atop the NFC North with such a lofty record? To watch them in any given game, they don't project an aura of greatness by a long shot. It's almost as if they mundanely plod away but somehow wind up winning in the end. As mentioned at the top, they've caught their share of breaks. (For those who would claim a team makes its own breaks -- yours truly would offer the Vikings' place kicker, Blair Walsh, missing a point after touchdown, which ultimately resulted in a Detroit overtime victory, instead of an almost certain loss. That's just luck).
Further, if things hold true to form, the Lions will get a playoff game at home. In that contest, they would likely face either a wild card winner from a watered down field, or perhaps another division champ with a lesser record. They could win that and advance.
But somewhere along the line, likely either Seattle or Dallas will stand in the way of the Super Bowl. Depending how the last four games play out, Detroit could actually host the Seahawks. If the Lions stay on a roll and the Seahawks stumble, they could be at Ford Field again. How the Lions would respond under such huge playoff pressure remains to be seen. After all, it's not like they have a wealth of experience in such contests. A meager one playoff win total since Super Bowls started 50 years ago speaks for itself. Yet perhaps it would be doable.
It's also unlikely anybody's going to waltz into Big D and knock off the Cowboys. But that's not impossible either. Stranger things have been known to happen in the postseason, not to mention whatever injuries could arise in the next month as well.
What will be truly interesting is when the Lions go to Dallas for a Monday night game on Dec. 26, the day after Santa has headed back to the North Pole. The whole country will be paying attention to that one, and it could well be a preview of a playoff match-up to come in late January.
Could the Lions actually pull off such a Herculean task and defeat the Cowboys in their own back yard? The final springboard to a -- gasp -- Super Bowl appearance?
Holy cow. Wouldn't that be something?
But hey. Nothing's impossible, right? Witness the recent Presidential election. Who saw THAT coming? And how 'bout dem Cubbies? 108 years in the making.
If the Lions go from a predicted 5-11 team all the way to the Super Bowl, one thing is for sure.
From coast to coast, people will be putting their right hand over their heart, their left arm extended and flailing, and all the while screaming in a Fred Sanford moment---
I'm coming Elizabeth!!!.
The big one indeed.