By: Will Burchfield
@burchie_kid

For the 24th straight year, the Lions will not win their division.

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The Vikings clinched the NFC North on Sunday, while the Lions are hanging on for dear life in the wild card race. It didn’t need to be this way, not in a year when the Bears were never a threat and both the Vikings and the Packers lost their respective starting quarterbacks in October.

But the Lions couldn’t take advantage of the opportunity, going 3-4 in the middle portion of the season to cede the inside lane to the Vikings.

It makes one wonder: What will it take for this franchise to win a division title?

Well, it makes some wonder.

“Does that have anything to do with Cincinnati? That’s all I’m worried about,” Jim Caldwell said on Monday. “All I’m worried about is Cincinnati, Cincinnati and Cincinnati. That’s it.”

Are the Lions at least close to ending their drought, which dates back to 1993?

“All I’m worried about is Cincinnati, that’s it. That’s all I’m worried about,” Caldwell said.

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Is he not worried about winning a division title?

“All I’m worried about,” he said, and you know the rest.

The core of Caldwell’s coaching philosophy is to stay in the moment, to focus on nothing but the task at hand. But it’s impossible not to take a panoramic view of the situation when things have been so bleak for so long.

Indeed, it’s human nature, even if Caldwell contends just the opposite.

“There’s very few people that have a really broad range of vision — Leonardo Da Vinci might be one of them. Other than that, there’s very few of them that can claim to be experts at a whole lot of different things, and scan the horizon and all that. You take care of what you can take care of, and that’s what we’re trying to do,” he said.

Though the Lions have had unprecedented success during Caldwell’s four-year tenure, they’ve also squandered three prime chances to win the division. They lost out to the Packers on the final day of the season in both 2014 and 2016, the latter after blowing a three-game lead with two weeks to go.

The swing game this year was a 30-23 loss to the Vikings on Thanksgiving.

Now the Lions are left searching for help in the wild card race, their fate out of their control. They’re a half game behind the 8-5 Falcons, who own the head-to-head tiebreaker. Atlanta plays at Tampa Bay on Monday night.

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“We watch, we see what happens, but the fact of the matter is what we’re concerned about is what we have control over,” Caldwell said. “That’s how we prepare, how we practice, how we play and most importantly, again, Cincinnati.”