Everything was looking up for the Detroit Lions after their Week 10 victory in Chicago.
They had just improved to 6-3 and swept the season series with the Bears. Their first NFC North title in 20 years looked to be in very good shape.
Chicago was reeling a bit and it appeared they were going to be without starting quarterback Jay Cutler for the foreseeable future.
Green Bay was already without quarterback Aaron Rodgers (fractured collarbone) and seemed lost without him in the lineup.
It was all set up for the Lions to run away with the division title. Unfortunately, they couldn't seize the moment.
Detroit would go on to lose three of the next four games, setting up the current race to the finish line over these final few weeks.
"Obviously we are in a race for the division title," head coach Jim Schwartz said Monday. "We have three games to play. You say it all the time that you can’t really worry about what’s happened in the past. You have to keep your eyes focused on the future. It starts Monday night with the Ravens. That’s about all you can really say about that.”
The Lions (7-6) still control their own destiny. They win their final three games and get to 10-6 and they win the division. They have home games vs. Baltimore (7-6) and the New York Giants (5-8) and finish the year at Minnesota. It’s the easiest remaining schedule of the three contenders.
The Bears (6-6) play the Dallas Cowboys (7-5) on Monday Night Football to finish out Week 14. They’ll then play at Cleveland (4-9), at Philadelphia (8-5) and finish the year at home vs. Green Bay (6-6-1).
Chicago, along with Detroit, has a chance to win out and finish the year 10-6. If that scenario plays out, however, Detroit would win the division because they won both head-to-head matchups with Chicago. If Chicago loses to Dallas tonight, the Lions essentially have a two-game cushion over them with three to play.
The Packers (6-6-1) play at Dallas (7-5), home vs. Pittsburgh (5-8) and at Chicago (6-6) to finish the year.
If Rodgers comes back this week, watch out, because the Packers can easily win the rest of their games with him in the lineup. In fact, it’s probably Green Bay, and not Chicago, Detroit fans should be most concerned about. Rodgers will be highly motivated after missing more than a month with that fractured collarbone. A lot of eyes will be on Green Bay’s first injury report on Wednesday.
The scenarios are pretty simple for the Lions. They win their next three games and they’ll host their second playoff game in 20 years.
They lose one more game and they start to need some help along the way, which is an unenviable position to be in the final month of the regular season.