A battle for third place in the NFC North – and fighting to stay out of last place in the division – isn't the scenario the Lions envisioned for their final game of the season when they began training camp in August with hopes and expectations of a second-straight playoff appearance.
But that's the reality of their situation as they face the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on Sunday. Both teams are 6-9. The winner gets third place. The loser ends the season in the basement.
Third place is not a lofty goal, but that doesn't mean the Lions are without any motivation. They've had a good run in the second half of the season, with a 5-2 record that started with an 18-16 victory at Green Bay – their first road win over the Packers since 1991.
Finishing the second half the way they started it would be some consolation for the Lions. For the Bears, getting to 7-9 under first-year head coach John Fox would represent a two-game improvement over last season's 5-11 record.
For the Lions, winning also could be another chip in head coach Jim Caldwell's favor when a decision is made on whether he returns for his third season, or if a new head coach is hired by the next general manager.
Regardless of the long-term ramifications – and a coaching change would be one of significant magnitude – the short-term focus is on beating the Bears.
"It'd be great because then that means we've finished the last eight games 6-2, if we're able to win this week," said defensive coordinator Teryl Austin. "You build momentum in the offseason. You build confidence in your program, confidence in what you're doing.
"I think that's the only thing that matters right now, is trying to get a win this Sunday."
Prediction: If the Lions get on top early, they could roll against a Bears team that has had significant losses on offense. If they don't, it could be a repeat of the 21-14 loss at St. Louis two weeks ago.
Lions 30, Bears 17.
Series history:The Bears have a 96-70 series lead, with five ties, but the Lions have a five-game winning streak. They swept the series in 2013 and '14 and beat the Bears in the first meeting this season – 37-34 in overtime in Week 6 at Ford Field.
Week 6 Game Rewind:The Lions scored 10 points in a span of 2:15 for a 34-31 lead with 21 seconds left. A 32-yard field goal by Matt Prater and a six-yard TD pass to Calvin Johnson put the Lions in front. Two pass completions by Jay Cutler and an interference call against Darius Slay set up Robbie Gould's 29-yard field goal that tied the game as time ran out.
Prater's 27-yard field goal on the Lions' third possession of overtime won the game.
Lions' passing focus, spread the wealth: The passing game has been a group effort in the second half of the season, and it's one reason for the Lions' 5-2 record since the bye.
The Bears' defense ranks fourth in the league against the pass. One way to defeat a pass defense is by spreading the ball around, and Matthew Stafford has been doing that in the last seven games.
Offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter prefers that style of play. There has been a significant improvement in the offense since he took over when Joe Lombardi was fired before Game 8.
"That's how I like to play," Cooter said. "You have five eligible receivers out there. Ideally, they're all threats to the defense in one form or fashion.
"You like to see the ball spread around pretty good, and that generally means defenses have to respect everybody. And that generally means our quarterback is doing a good job going through his progressions and getting the ball to whoever's open."
In the last seven games, Stafford has thrown 16 TD passes against two interceptions, with a passer rating of 108.7.
The big guns have been the primary targets, as they should be. Golden Tate (46 catches), Theo Riddick (34) and Calvin Johnson (30) are the leaders in the last seven games, but Stafford has gone to others in his progression. Tight end Eric Ebron has 19 catches, and TJ Jones has had nine of his 10 catches in the last seven games.
Also in the last seven games, eight receivers have had at least one TD catch. Johnson and Tate have five each. Ebron, Lance Moore, TJ Jones, Michael Burton, Riddick and Brandon Pettigrew all have one.
Stafford stats: Stafford has had hot streaks in other seasons, and this ranks with his best.
"I had some good stretches there in 2011, but yeah, I'm playing pretty efficient football right now," Stafford said. "It's probably the most efficient I've been, for sure."
Stafford seven-game stats: He's had at least two seven-game stretches since the start of the 2011 season that are comparable to this year.
2011: Last seven games – 21 TD passes, eight interceptions and a 4-3 won-loss record. (Note: The Lions finished 10-6 and made the playoffs.)
2013: First seven games – 15 TD passes, four interceptions and a 4-3 record. (Note: The Lions won the next two games to get to 6-3 but faded to 7-9).
Also in 2011: Stafford had 16 TD passes and four interceptions in the first seven games, with a 5-2 record. Three TD passes without a pick in Game 8 made his eight-game totals 20 TD passes, four interceptions and a 6-2 record.
Bears' focus, Forte to Langford:The torch is being passed in the running game, from veteran Matt Forte to rookie Jeremy Langford.
The Lions have seen the best of Forte in his eight seasons with the Bears, and this might be his last home game at Soldier Field.
Forte, who turned 30 on December 10, has put a lot of yards – and miles – on his legs in eight seasons since being drafted by the Bears in the second round in 2008 out of Tulane. Forte is on the last year of his contract, and although he reiterated to reporters this week his desire to remain in Chicago, he also said that there have been no contract talks with team management.
Take a look back at pictures from many of the showdowns between the Lions and Bears in Chicago over the years.
Forte has missed only seven games in his career, three of them coming this season. He is having a good season – 822 yards rushing, 41 catches for 355 yards – but not quite up to his previous standards. Before this year Forte had three straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons and five for his career, and he set a career high last year with 102 catches.
Langford, a fourth-round draft pick out of Michigan State and Westland John Glenn High School, has performed well enough to demonstrate that he could be Forte's successor. In 15 games and two starts Langford has 523 yards rushing, 22 catches for 279 yards, and seven total touchdowns – six rushing, one receiving.
In his conference call with the Detroit media, Bears head coach John Fox talked about Langford's work ethic and the versatility that allows him to do more than run the ball.
"All of the ingredients that you're looking for in a running back in the National Football League, I think he's had a very good rookie year," Fox said.
Forte vs. Lions:He has had five 1,000-yard rushing seasons and what amounts to a 1,000-yard season against the Lions alone. In 15 games against the Lions, Forte has rushed for 1,135 yards and five touchdowns. He also has four receiving touchdowns. He has five games with at least 100 yards rushing and one game in 2010 with 151 yards receiving and two TD catches.