The NFL’s closest race is in the NFC North, where a half game separates the top three teams. The Lions and Bears are 7-6, with the Packers a half game back at 6-6-1 and in position to leap frog both if one or both stumble.
With three games left, it’s any team's – and every team’s opportunity.
What will it take for the Lions to win the North? Can they do it? And will they do it?
Mike: Put away all the genius theories and measuring sticks.
Here’s the formula for the Lions to take the North: win, win, win.
Win three games, and they finish first in the North without needing any tiebreakers or help from someone to beat the Bears or Packers.
There is no way anyone can like the way the Lions have played the last month. That includes the Lions’ players, coaches, front office and fans. They’ve lost three out of four games, and they’ve had fourth-quarter leads in the three games they lost.
The biggest issues that have hurt them are turnovers, and the defense being unable to make stops in the fourth quarter.
The Steelers put together a 97-yard drive to score the go-head touchdown. A week later, the Bucs hit them with an 85-yard TD pass in the first minute of the fourth quarter. And Sunday in Philadelphia, the defense was horrible in the fourth quarter, giving up 28 points to the Eagles, who ran through them at will.
And the turnover problem has gotten worse, not better. The Lions have lost the ball 15 times in the last four games. Even if they cut it in half it would be too many.
I still think the Lions will win the North because of the schedule advantage and the fact that the Lions have too many good players to continue playing so poorly.
What am I missing?
Tim: Not much.
The Lions simply refuse to get out of their own way. It starts and ends with the turnovers, in my opinion.
If the Lions don’t turn the ball over, a lot of teams aren’t in a position to win the game with a drive or a big play in the fourth quarter.
That certainly doesn’t excuse the defense from giving up the drives or the big plays, I think you make a good point. If the offense simply stops playing kindergarten hot potato with the darn football, however, fourth quarters aren’t as stressful.
Fifteen turnovers in four weeks is a pretty ridiculous number for a contending team. Spot a good team four turnovers and see what happens. I’m not talking about a Packers team without their starting quarterback that has a bad offensive line, either.
If the Lions take care of the football over the last three games they have a very good chance to win them all and host a playoff game. They don’t and they won’t. It’s really that simple.
Can they do it?
Mike: Yes. They can, they should, and I still think they will for the reasons I’ve already stated. The biggest being the schedule. They should beat the Ravens and Giants at home, and then they go on the road to play the Vikings in the last game.
Of all the teams in the last three games, the one that scares me the most is the Lions – not the Ravens, Giants or Vikings. You pretty much know what to expect from them. It’s the Lions that scare me. There is no way to predict what you’ll get from them from series to series, let alone game to game.
On offense, they’re like a drag-racer that can do the quarter mile in 5.5 seconds – and crashes 100 yards from the finish line. The defense can shut a team down for three quarters and collapse in the fourth.
What kind of adjustment do you think the Lions need, starting with the Monday night game against the Ravens?
Tim: I don’t think it’s ever a bad idea to get Calvin Johnson more involved. The five targets he saw on Sunday aren’t enough, even in those bad conditions in Philadelphia. The best player on the field needs more opportunities to make plays.
The rushing defense doesn’t concern me too much. Sunday was more of an anomaly than an underlying problem.
The secondary continues to be an issue, though I thought
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has attempted 57 passes of 20-plus yards this season, the second-most in the NFL behind New Orleans (60). He takes his shots and the Lions safeties and corners better be ready for them. Maybe we see more two-deep safety looks from the Lions than we have in the past.
The Lions don’t need to change a lot in terms of scheme or personnel. They just have to be smarter with the football. It sounds so easy.
Mike: Schemes, systems and personnel aside, the Lions have to realize that realistically, they are already in the playoffs.
They’re in a three-game competition with the Bears and Packers, and the winner gets to play Week 4 at home.
None of the three teams has played great football. No one should push all the chips to the middle of the table based on what happened Sunday.
The Lions folded in Philly, but they beat the Packers, 40-10, in the previous game.
The Bears hammered the Cowboys on Monday night. But the week before, they blew a game and lost to the lowly Vikings in overtime.
And the Packers beat the Falcons at Lambeau, but they had four losses and a tie in the previous five games.
It’s a week to week proposition now.
The race officially is on, with three teams lined up hub cap to hub cap.