TIM AND MIKE: What will it take for the Lions to win the division?

Posted Dec 4, 2013

Tim Twentyman and Mike O'Hara dig into what the Lions have to do to win three games and clinch the NFC North

Ndamukong SuhNdamukong Suh (Photo: Gavin Smith/Detroit Lions)

The Lions start the last quarter of the season with a chance to accomplish something they haven't done in 20 years – win a division title.

They lead the NFC North with a 7-5 record. The Bears are a game behind at 6-6, with the Packers next at 5-6-1.

What are the keys for the Lions, starting with Sunday's game at Philadelphia against the streaking Eagles, and what's at stake for the Lions as they begin the stretch run?

Mike: The key is to play good, solid football. It's not about making big plays, momentum, getting hot, history or anything else. Playing good football will win the division and give the Lions a home game to start the playoffs.

They're capable of doing that, but they're also capable playing bad ball. They did both in the 40-10 victory over the Packers on Thanksgiving Day, but there was far more good than bad from the Lions.

The bad part is turnovers. They have four more, and that's been a problem for the last month. When the Lions hang on to the ball, they can score as fast as any team in the NFL.

Reducing turnovers is one of the two biggest keys for the stretch, starting with Sunday's game. The other is eliminating big plays given up by the defense.

The obvious question is whether they can do both.

Tim: The four turnovers on Thanksgiving gives the Lions 17 in their last 20 quarters of football. Amazingly, they are 3-2 over that stretch. It just goes to show how talented this team is. I wonder how good they could be if they'd stop getting in their own way.

The one thing the Lions have going for them this weekend is the Eagles defense isn't littered with a lot of playmakers. They're a solid unit, collectively, and they're plus-seven in the turnover ratio, but rank 31st in total defense and 32nd against the pass.

The Eagles are 1-3 this year when teams score at least 22 points on them. The Lions are averaging 27.2 points per game. If the Lions take care of the football, they'll be fine.

Is Sunday a statement game for this team?

Mike: Good question, but it's one that was a better fit for Lions teams of two or three seasons ago. The only statement in the last month of this season is to bring the best they have to every play of every game.

This final drive isn't about anything but winning games. Proving they belong, or that they can compete with other teams was something that should have ended when they made the playoffs in 2011. That was the statement season.

From now on, all that matters is results – no matter who they play, where they play and when they play.

Am I missing something?

Tim: The Lions lost back-to-back games at Pittsburgh and vs. Tampa Bay last month when they had a chance to really extend their lead in the division. That left doubt in some minds as to how good this team really is. Does this team have a killer instinct?

They get to hit the road this weekend against a division-leading team in Philadelphia, who has their starting quarterback, and has won four straight games.

You are right, winning is the only thing that ultimately matters, but winning a game on the road on the heels of the performance they had on Thanksgiving would be a statement and give this team a load of confidence coming back for two at home.

Sunday's game will feature two of the most versatile running backs in the NFL in Reggie Bush and LeSean McCoy.

Before the season began, how many total yards did you have Bush going for?

Mike: I had Bush going for a lot. How's that for an answer.

I figured it would be a successful year for him if he wound up in the range of 1,500 yards, rushing and receiving combined. At his rate, he'll get closer to 2,000, and he missed one game with an injury.

Having Joique Bell available to spell him has taken away some yards Bush would have gotten if the Lions did not have a backup as capable as Bell. Actually, they're 1 and 1A as the starting tailbacks.

The negatives for Bush have been dropped passes and fumbles, and they cannot be discounted. What does not change, however, is the impact his presence makes on defenses every play. There's never a play when a defense does not have to account for Bush. The same is true for Bell, but in a different way.

Bush and Calvin Johnson make up the best 1-2 threat the Lions have had since Barry Sanders and Herman Moore played together in the 1990s.

Tim: I had the minimum for Bush at 1,500 yards. He's at 1,306 (854 rushing and 448 receiving) right now and is likely to blow past 1,500 the next four games.

He's turned out to be exactly the player the Lions needed in this offense and a perfect compliment to Johnson. He's what they refer to as a "free agent home run."

Bush is the seventh-leading rusher in the NFL, and I'm not sure many pegged him to be that high before the season began.

He's actually got fewer catches at this point in the season than I thought he'd have. He's at 45 and I thought there was real potential for him to catch around 80 passes this year.

I've been a little surprised at the drops. He's averaging close to one per game. The fumbles are a little concerning, too, but all-in-all, he's been exactly the player the Lions thought he'd be.

What will it take for the Lions to get into the playoffs?

Mike: Two answers: playing good football, and win three more games.

The second part is pure math. A 10-6 record will clinch the North. The best the Bears can do is 10-6, but the Lions have the tiebreaker based sweeping their two games. The Packers can't be better than 9-6-1.

Breaking even and 9-7 probably will do it, too.

Reggie BushRB Reggie Bush (Photo: G. Smith/Detroit Lions)

Forget records, though. The most important thing is to play well. If the Lions do that, everything will take care of itself.

No matter what their final record is, they don't want to skid into the playoffs because their opponents lost games.

The dream scenario is to clinch the North at home – against the Ravens on Monday night in Game 14 or against the Giants the next week in Game 15.

It would make Ford Field a party pit – like Eminem, Kid Rock, Kenny Chesney and the Lions playing together on the same night.

I'd like the concession on ear plugs.

Tim: It's simple, really. Win three of the next four and the Lions win the division and host a playoff game for the first time in 20 years.

Imagine this dream scenario for the Lions. They win in Philly and both Chicago and Green Bay lose this weekend. That would mean the Lions could clinch the division at home on Monday Night Football vs. Baltimore.

If you thought it was loud at Ford Field for the Chicago game on Monday night a couple years ago, let this situation play out and see how loud it gets.

I agree with you, most importantly, the Lions just need to play good football down the stretch. Quit all the turnovers and play quality football.

It's all about getting into the playoffs. As we've seen from year's past, anything can happen if you're among the 12 teams that get in.