The Lions play tonight against Baltimore, and they’re facing quite a bit of pressure. It really shouldn’t be this way for Detroit; their divisional opponents have either seen their starting quarterback get hurt for an extended period of time (Bears, Packers) or play terribly (Vikings) while they themselves have suffered no injuries on that scale. They have a dominant defensive front and the best receiver in the league.
Yet here they are, 7-6 and trailing the Bears, with the similarly mercurial Baltimore Ravens coming to town. A win would set them up very nicely with two weeks remaining; they would control their own fate. A loss, though, and things get much dicier. This is a team that tends to lose discipline when the lights are brightest, to beat themselves in big moments. They will probably have more talent than the Ravens, but if the Lions were able to consistently translate their talent advantage into wins, their record would be a lot better than 7-6. In my opinion, that speaks to a less-than-capable coaching staff that has never seemed able to inspire consistent, intelligent, and disciplined play. Remember the Jim Harbaugh/Jim Schwartz handshake fiasco? Schwartz managed to come off as the most out of control, undisciplined, immature, and childishly over-competitive man in an altercation with Jim Harbaugh. That’s hard to do.
Thanks to Monday Night Football and next weekend’s flex, the Lions will play twice before the Bears play their next game. By the time we see the Bears again we’ll have a very good idea of what they’ll need to do to win the division. That task list might include beating Green Bay, who came back from the dead yesterday in Dallas thanks to Matt Flynn’s four touchdown performance against the woeful Dallas secondary. (He was also aided by Tony Romo and Jason Garrett combining to light their season on fire.) Remember the last time a backup quarterback had gaudy numbers against Dallas? Think anyone will suggest Matt Flynn should keep the job if Rodgers is healthy? In any case, Green Bay remains alive, and a win next weekend against the Steelers could very well set up a play-in game at Soldier Field for the season finale.
That all depends on what Detroit does, of course. They still hold the keys. I could see them handling their business against the Ravens, then taking care of the suddenly hapless Giants next week, putting all the pressure on the Bears. I could just as easily see the Lions collapsing on national television as Jim Schwartz gets outcoached by a Harbaugh once again, and then following that up with another letdown next Sunday against New York. They’re a high-variance team, and that inconsistency is the only reason the Bears are still alive. With the Lions, anything can happen.
And that’s a great reason to watch tonight’s game.