ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) The Detroit Lions like to call themselves an indoor team with an outdoor mentality.
Now it’s time to put that mantra to the test.
Needing one win to clinch a playoff spot, the Lions will play at Chicago on Sunday against the struggling Bears. Although Detroit is heavily favored the weekend, the price for a loss could be severe: The regular-season finale the following weekend is at Green Bay, where the Lions have not won since 1991.
Detroit plays its home games indoors at Ford Field, but the race for postseason position will come down to two outdoor games against division rivals, in potentially difficult conditions.
”We’ve got to be a physical team and we’ve got to be able to run the ball,” star receiver Calvin Johnson said. ”When it gets inclement out there, rain, windy, we’ve got to be able to work in the trenches. Outside, we have to be able to get those blocks to spring our running backs loose.”
Cold weather has not been kind to the Lions over the last two decades. Detroit has lost 13 straight games with the temperature at 35 degrees or below, a streak that began with a playoff loss at Green Bay in 1994, according to STATS.
Detroit has practiced outside this week in chilly Michigan air, and unlike in seasons past, these Lions seem built to play in adverse conditions. Thanks to its bruising defense, Detroit hasn’t needed to rely on Johnson and quarterback Matthew Stafford as much. The Lions are particularly tough against the run, so they could be at an advantage if the weather makes passing difficult.
Earlier this season, the Lions cooled down their indoor facility during practice, and this week, coach Jim Caldwell wanted his players outside.
”You always have to deal with wind conditions. Indoors we don’t have the wind,” Caldwell said. ”You see from previously, when we’ve had to play in a cold weather, we usually open the doors and try to get the temperature the same. But, obviously in this particular case, we’re going to go outside. The ground is not frozen or anything of that nature where we have to worry about the guys having issues with footing and things.”
Detroit (10-4) has won three in a row, all at home. The team’s most recent road game was last month at New England, and the Lions lost 34-9, but the streak of losses at 35 degrees or lower can be attributed in part to Detroit’s futility in general over the last 20 years. It’s not as though the Lions have been great in warm weather either.
In those 13 losses in colder temperatures, the Lions have entered with a better record than their opponent only three times, and never was the disparity in Detroit’s favor as big as it is this weekend. The Lions are five games ahead of Chicago (5-9) in the standings, and the Bears are set to go with Jimmy Clausen at quarterback. He’ll make his first start since 2010.
Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin says the team was able to find a decent amount of footage on Clausen, even though he hasn’t played much.
”We have a good film staff,” Austin said. ”Obviously, you can go back quite a few years, so we’ve been able to look at him and look at some of the things that he does. And obviously, you have some preseason tape and some snaps from this year.”
This combination – a tough defense against an inexperienced quarterback – means this may be Detroit’s best chance in quite some time to win a cold-weather game. And this would be quite a time to do it.
”I like playing outdoors. We like practicing outdoors,” defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh said. ”If you’re in this league long enough, it’s good on the joints. It’s definitely fun. We’re looking forward to Chicago and then going from there.”
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