This ugly season will come to an end for the Detroit Lions, but will their losing streak? The Lions play their final game Sunday afternoon at Ford Field against the Chicago Bears, who are still in playoff contention.
Here are five storylines to follow:
1. Have the Bears not heard that you’re supposed to let sleeping Lions lie?
Chicago still has a very realistic shot at making the playoffs despite losing five of its last seven games after a 7-1 start.
The Bears need a victory and a Minnesota loss or tie against Green Bay to clinch one of the NFC wild-card berths.
Detroit, on the other hand, appears to be down and out with a 4-11 record, a seven-game losing streak and nothing but the role of spoiler to play.
So why are the Bears talking trash to risk waking up their NFC North division rival?
It makes no sense. Keep your mouth shut and just watch the Lions self-destruct one more time.
But here are the Bears mouthing off. Defensive tackle Henry Melton pulled out the old “dirty” card on the Lions and, in particular, called out center Dominic Raiola for constantly cussing and throwing “cheap shots.” Raiola responded by calling Melton “a clown” and saying that he didn’t deserve his Pro Bowl invite.
Melton also tweeted a cartoon photo from the Lion King that has been making the rounds. The caption reads: “THAT SHADOWY PLACE IS THE SUPER BOWL. NO LION HAS EVER BEEN THERE.”
Bears safety Major Wright, meanwhile, went after someone who could potentially do serious damage to Chicago’s playoff chances in Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford.
Wright said that Stafford is having an “OK” season and added, “You have to be aware of putting pressure on him. You put a little pressure on him, he kind of folds. You close the pocket on him, he hesitates.”
That is true for almost any quarterback, of course. But why say it about your next opponent under these circumstances?
2. The Lions can become the only NFL franchise with a player who has 2,000 rushing yards in a season and another with 2,000 receiving yards.
Barry Sanders ran for 2,053 yards in 1997. Fifteen years later, Calvin Johnson needs 108 yards to hit 2K on the receiving end.
Johnson broke the NFL single-season record for receiving yards last week, but he can make it that much more difficult for someone else to surpass with another big game.
The Bears, however, held Johnson to a season-low 34 yards on three receptions in their 13-7 victory at Chicago on Oct. 22.
Chicago put a lot of pressure on Stafford in that game while cornerback Charles Tillman constantly locked up on Johnson downfield.
Johnson said the Bears also were effective in disguising their coverage at times.
“They do a great job with their safeties and bringing them down really late,” Johnson said.
3. Johnson isn’t the only one having a historic season. Stafford also has a chance to reach 5,000 passing yards in consecutive years, along with breaking the NFL record for pass attempts in a season.
He needs 305 yards to reach 5K. New Orleans’ Drew Brees, meanwhile, needs 219 for the same back-to-back accomplishment, which has never happened in the NFL.
Only four quarterbacks (Brees twice, Stafford, New England’s Tom Brady and former Miami Dolphin Dan Marino) have ever passed for 5,000 in a season in league history.
“Honestly, it doesn’t mean a whole lot to me,” Stafford said. “I want to try to get a win.” Stafford has passed for more than 305 yards in eight of the Lions’ 15 games, but Chicago held him to 261 two months ago.
He also needs to throw only seven passes to break Drew Bledsoe’s record of 691 attempts set in 1994 with the New England Patriots.
As much as anything, that’s a reflection of the team’s lack of an effective run game, not to mention having to play from behind so often late in games.
One streak Stafford needs to end: Two straight games without a touchdown pass, the first time that’s happened back-to-back in his career.
4. No statistic in football reflects winning and losing more than turnover margin, which doesn’t bode well for the Lions.
They are minus-12 (17 takeaways, 29 giveaways), which ranks 26th in the NFL.
The Bears are plus-16 (40 takeaways, 24 giveaways), second in the league.
The first time they met the Lions were minus-4 in turnovers, including three fumbles.
Chicago’s defense, especially Tillman, has thrived on stripping the ball by punching it out.
“It’s coached,” Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said of the Bears’ knack for creating turnovers.
“They rally to the football,” Stafford said. “Every time you turn on film, somebody’s getting tackled and there’s three or four guys right around them. If the ball pops out, they’re going to get it. It’s something you have to be conscious of.”
In their last two losses, the Lions have committed seven turnovers that have led to 45 points.
5. A year ago when Chicago lost on Monday night to the Lions, much was made about the tremendous home-field advantage created by the raucous atmosphere at Ford Field. The crowd repeatedly disrupted the Bears’ offense and forced them into false starts.
You wouldn’t know any edge existed anymore based on the results. The Lions are 2-5 at home, including four straight losses to Green Bay, Houston, Indianapolis and Atlanta, all playoff teams.
Detroit is also on the verge of going winless in the division. Chicago can sweep the series, just as Green Bay and Minnesota already did.
The Lions are also in danger of ending the season on an eight-game losing streak. It would be the third time in the last 11 years, fourth time in club history, that they’ve finished so poorly. They were 0-16 in 2008, lost their last eight in 2002 and were 0-11 in 1942.
“I don’t want to go into next season with a losing streak,” said Raiola, in his 12th year with the Lions. “We’ve been through too many of those up here. We need to stop that right now.”
Otherwise, Raiola knows what it’s going to be like starting out training camp next August.
“That’s the first thing people are going to talk about, that you’re on an eight-game losing streak,” he said. “That makes it that much tougher.”
Defensive tackle Sammie Hill has been ruled out by the Lions because of a toe injury. Hill started last week because of season-ending injuries to D-tackles Corey Williams and Nick Fairley.
Tight end Brandon Pettigrew (ankle) returned to practice Friday but is listed as doubtful. Safety Louis Delmas (knee) and cornerback Chris Houston (hamstring) are questionable.
For the Bears, free safety Chris Conte (hamstring) is out, linebacker Brian Urlacher (hamstring) is doubtful and defensive tackle Henry Melton (chest) is questionable.