By: Eric Thomas

The Lions are in the driver’s seat in the NFC North—and they have the talent to get it done. It’s understandable if that takes you a while to process.

If you need time to walk away, feel free. If you need to set down your smartphone, tablet or wireless device or push away from your laptop or desktop—do what you need to do. If you need to lay down on a cushioned surface after hearing that, face up and blinking at the ceiling, hands opening and closing like the end of a yoga class, go ahead. We’ll wait for you to come back.

With the injury of Aaron Rodgers—hardly the kind of thing you want to celebrate, but it’s part of an NFL season—and limitations on Jay Cutler, the Lions are in a position that they haven’t inhabited since 1999, and even that comparison doesn’t hold up. That team was obviously more lucky than good in the the year Barry Sanders retired, even the most buttery Lions backer didn’t think they had a chance. Today’s Lions have the legitimate players on both sides of the ball.

The next few games have little to do with the players and how they match up on paper. The Lions can beat the Bears. They already beat the Bears once this year in a game at Ford Field that game wasn’t as close as than the final score indicated. Now with most of the Chicago roster in the infirmary, the Lions have a great chance to win at Soldier Field for the first time in years. But again, the rest of this season has nothing to do with Megatron, Stafford or even Ndamukong Suh. It’s about what they are and who they’re going to be.

As much as they don’t want to admit it, losing is in the waterlines at Ford Field and Allen Park. Few of the names on the roster are the same as that ignominious 0-16 team, but the memory remains. Fans watch blowouts with their stomachs twisted. Enduring the Lions every Sunday has been a study in the realization of the worst case scenario. They historically lose to teams they should beat and fall apart when they have a big lead.

For the last few decades, if no team shows up to beat the Lions, they beat themselves. That’s the mental puzzle of this team that no one has ever unlocked. Pull on that Honolulu blue and you believed you play for a loser.

If the Lions want to finally break that fever and turn into the team that focuses on the future, it has to start Sunday against the Bears. They have to overcome whatever insecurities come portioned with a permanent locker at Ford Field. They have to believe.

This year has already had some scant evidence of this fever breaking. In most Lions-related scenarios, they lose the game against the Cowboys at Ford Field two weeks ago. But they believed. They never lost focus or convinced themselves they were cursed. The players pulled up their collective boot-and-jockstraps and got it done with a defensive stop followed by a miracle march down the field.

The players have to believe, and they have to ignore their stupid fan base. Lions fans are famously fatalistic and they have every reason to be. Decades turned us into PTSD victims. If the Lions ever win a Superbowl, many fans will be convinced they’ll somehow lose the game in the trophy ceremony.
Plenty of Lions fans are convinced, even right now, that this team has no chance of winning this year even IF the ideal scenario has unfolded in front of them. They shake their head and deny it, like a caveman presented with a PS3, dismissing it as witchcraft before they club the person who brought it up.

The Lions have a chance, and they have the talent to do it. They can to vanquish a lot of the demons of the distant past, and recent past too. They can prove that the 2012 was the exception in the last five years and not the rule. It’s possible that they bury their demons, and complete the process of transformation that began in 2009.

This could be it. Hopefully it will be. The stink of a missed opportunity can hang around for decades. Let’s not find out what that smells like.


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