By Ashley Dunkak
DETROIT (CBS DETROIT) – Thursday the Detroit Lions celebrated their first win since 2003 in the heralded Thanksgiving Day game, and within weeks they could be celebrating their first division crown since 1993.
The Lions have won just two more games than they have lost, but their traditionally strong division turned out to be helpfully weak this season. The Green Bay Packers do not have quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and the Chicago Bears do not have quarterback Jay Cutler. So far Detroit has been avoided such grievous injuries to its star players and thus has managed to stay atop a sub-par division.
The Bears (6-6), Packers ( 5-6-1) and Minnesota Vikings (3-8-1) are now powerless to stop the Lions from winning the NFC North. At this point, Detroit just has to refrain from stopping itself. If the Lions win three of their last four, the division belongs to them. Detroit holds the conference record tiebreaker (6-3 with no other team better than 3-6), so as long as the Lions win three of four, the Bears cannot not surpass the Lions even by winning out.
In the last quarter of the 2013 regular season, this weekend’s matchup could well be the toughest for the Lions. They hit the road to face the Philadelphia Eagles (7-5), for whom underrated quarterback Nick Foles has 19 touchdowns and zero interceptions this season. The Lions are 3-3 on the road, while the Eagles are just 2-4 at home. The Eagles are on a four-game winning streak and have emerged victorious from six of their last eight.
If Detroit falters against Philadelphia, though, winning out would still seal the deal, although the remaining schedule is not quite as easy as it looks. None of Detroit’s final three opponents currently has a winning record, but just like the loss to the formerly two-win Tampa Bay Buccaneers showed, an opponent’s record hardly guarantees a victory.
In that vein, a huge game for Detroit will be the Monday Night Football showdown Dec. 16. The Lions host the Baltimore Ravens (6-6), who are 5-1 at home but 1-5 on the road. However, the Ravens have won three of their last four games, and all but two of their losses came by three points or fewer. Detroit’s secondary has been an area of concern, and Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco could exploit the Lions’ defensive backs.
The next weekend, on Dec. 22, the Lions face the New York Giants, who began the season 0-6 but much like the Bucs are on the rise. The Giants have won five of their last six.
To conclude the regular season schedule, Detroit goes on the road to play the Vikings on Dec. 29. Minnesota has struggled all season, but the Vikings are 3-3 at home versus 0-5 on the road, and they will want revenge for the Lions’ 34-24 defeat of them in the season opener.
The Lions made the postseason in 2011, but the team has not won a playoff game since 1991. When Detroit last won its division in 1993, the Lions were still in the NFC Central.