The Lions have to win Monday night against the Baltimore Ravens at Ford Field to hold serve on the Chicago Bears and move back into a first-place tie in the NFC North.
If they lose, they’ll actually drop all the way down to third place, behind the Green Bay Packers, too.
Chicago’s 38-31 victory Sunday in Cleveland has put the pressure on the Lions (7-6), who have fallen behind the Bears (8-6) by half a game.
It’s the first time Detroit hasn’t had at least a share of the division lead since November 4, the day Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers suffered a broken collarbone, sending the then-first place Packers into a 0-4-1 tailspin.
Just a few weeks ago it appeared the Lions were in total control of the division before losing three of the last four games.
Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh has called this rare Monday night appearance “definitely a must win for us.”
The same can be said, though, for the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens.
“They’re fighting for their playoff life, too,” Lions center Dominic Raiola said.
Baltimore (7-6) has won three straight to move into contention for the final wildcard berth in the AFC.
Miami’s victory over New England Sunday pushed the Dolphins (8-6) ahead of the Ravens by half a game for that last spot.
So, in reality, the Lions and the Ravens are in basically the same position in terms of what the game means for their playoff chances.
“This is what football is all about,” Detroit running back Reggie Bush said. “This is what we live for and what we dreamed about since we were little kids.”
After Detroit won in Chicago on November 10 to take a one-game lead while also clinching the tiebreaker over the Bears, it seemed to be the Lions’ division to lose.
Well, guess what?
Despite injuries to Rodgers and Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler, the Lions were unable to put the division away when they seemingly had the chance in recent weeks.
“We couldn’t ask for a more ideal situation, but we haven’t taken advantage of it,” receiver Nate Burleson said.
The Bears, on the other hand, are getting hot at the right time, having scored a total of 83 points in back-to-back victories. Cutler returned Sunday and threw two fourth-quarter touchdown passes after a rough start.
As a result, the Lions are in danger of wasting a golden opportunity to win their first division title in two decades.
Chicago plays next week at Philadelphia (8-6) before closing the regular season at home against Green Bay (7-6-1), which stayed in the race with a wild comeback Sunday in Dallas.
The Packers have Pittsburgh at home before finishing against the Bears. The big question is whether Rodgers gets cleared to return now that they have a legitimate shot at the postseason.
The Lions, meanwhile, will be at home against the New York Giants (5-9) next Sunday and then at Minnesota (4-9-1) in Week 17.
“We’ve still got everything sitting in our hands,” Burleson said. “The only team that can stop us from doing what we want to do is the Detroit Lions. It’s the only team.”
Sometimes, that’s enough.
The Lions have committed a whopping 15 turnovers in their last four games. They’ve blown fourth-quarter leads in their last three losses.
Nonetheless, they’re now a 6 ½-point favorite over the Ravens and likely will be favored in their final two games, too.
Win all three and they’re in the playoffs, hosting an opening-round game, no matter what else happens.
Burleson expects them to respond under the pressure and the Monday Night Football spotlight.
“There will be a point in this game where we need to put it away,” Burleson said. “The mature Lions team that’s learning from our mistakes will put that game away at that point.” Maybe they will do just that, but most Lions’ fans are going to have to see it to believe it.