Having caught every break imaginable so far this season, the Lions were cruising along towards the playoffs. This is not huge news in several other NFL towns, because they're used to participating in the post season most years. When perennially good teams have a drought, it doesn't last for long.
But the Lions are one of only 4 teams to have never even made it to the Super Bowl, let alone win it. The others are "expansion" teams -- the Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars, and the "new" Cleveland Browns. So as one can imagine, the Honolulu blue and silver faithful in Detroit are quite excited these days.
There has been talk of the Lions not just making the playoffs, but even hosting a home game (or two if they got that far). It could even be that the Lions, if they kept winning, might clinch one of the two coveted first round byes in the NFC. Scarce few would have thought that possible at the beginning of the season. Most pundits had them going somewhere around 5-11 or 6-10 for just another one of their ho-hum campaigns. All of these scenarios are still mathematically possible if Detroit wins its last two games and things play out elsewhere around the conference in their favor.
Of course, there is the flip side as well. Any and all of these scenarios can go poof if the Lions collapse to end the season on a three game losing streak while others in the hunt keep rolling. Nothing is etched in stone yet.
The Lions losing at the NY Giants could be considered "strike one". True, the Giants are a good team, and losing to them on the road is nothing to be ashamed of. But that game enabled the Giants to pass the Lions in the conference standings. The bye mentioned above is starting to look mighty iffy.
Next up, the Lions travel to Dallas for a Monday night game. All football eyes will be upon it. At 12-2, the Cowboys are leading the NFC pack by a full two games over the 10-4 Giants. Jerry Jones's boys need only win one of their last two. However, if they lose both and the Giants win out, while they would both still get first round byes at 12-4, the Cowboys might have to play @ NY somewhere down the line, the Giants holding the tie-breaker, having defeated the Cowboys both at home and on the road, for their only two losses so far. It's safe to say, the only road game the Cowboys want to see in the playoffs is the last one -- the Super Bowl just down the road a skosh in Houston.
If they can beat the Lions next Monday, they can lock up home field throughout the playoffs, and their last game @ Philly won't matter. So besides the national glare of Monday night football, da Boys will be highly motivated to defeat the Lions. If they can, they'll have the luxury of resting a lot of their key players for the regular season finale -- giving the bumps and bruises an extra week to heal before the even harder hitting grind of the playoffs start.
However, if the Lions were to lose that game, and they'll certainly be underdogs, it could be considered "strike two". That would put them at 9-6 with one game to play, The bye would have been long gone, and a home playoff game would be in jeopardy, again depending how things elsewhere around the league played out. But they'd still be very much in the hunt for the postseason.
What seemed like "cloud nine" just a couple weeks before, could turn into a house of horrors. Namely, they could miss the playoffs entirely.
It could, and likely will, all boil down to the Lions own regular season finale, a home game against Green Bay. The Pack started out slow this year, but appear to have righted their ship somewhat and are fighting for a playoff spot as well. They're only one game back of the Lions, have defeated them once already this year, and will be taking on Minnesota next week. Oddly, that game will be played on Saturday, Christmas Eve, rather than the usual Sunday. The Packers are home for it, and the Vikings, after a fast start this year, have all but collapsed. All signs point to a Green Bay romp.
The Lions will already know the outcome of that game, of course, when they play on Monday night. But if it just so works out that Detroit loses in Dallas while GB has won at home -- they would be tied atop the NFC north division, with the showdown in Detroit the following week for all the marbles.
It is worth noting that while GB has to travel to Detroit, the Packers will have a full two days more rest and preparation time to get ready for that game than the Lions.
Therefore, it's entirely possible both Detroit and Green Bay will be fighting for not only the division championship, but perhaps even a playoff spot at all. With the Giants as one likely wild card and the Tampa Bay Bucs quietly sneaking into the fray, the worst case scenario for Detroit could be falling out of the playoffs entirely. Everything would have to work out just right, or wrong, but it's a possibility.
What a New Year's day showdown it is likely to be. Aaron Rodgers and the Pack invading Motown with huge ramifications depending on the outcome of the game.
As mentioned at the top, the Lions have caught a ton of breaks this year to even be in the position they are. But if Murphy's Law boinks them on the head over the next couple weeks -- and it IS the Lions, remember -- how far they would have fallen, and how fast. From penthouse to outhouse, once again.
A loss to the Pack in week 17 could quite possibly be -- "strike three". And we all know what umpires yell right after that happens.
But it ain't over yet. As they have long said in Detroit, there is still hope.