The Lions will be playing a game at Lambeau Field this Sunday that will have importance, but they could find themselves back at Lambeau Field two weeks later for a game that might define their season.
Only three years removed from a winless season, the 10-5 Lions have clinched a place in the playoffs and will clinch the fifth seed in the NFC with a win over the Packers this Sunday. With a loss, the Lions would likely fall to No. 6. Either way, a win in the first round of the playoffs could send the Lions back to Green Bay for a divisional round game.
"We're certainly not thinking about anything but winning the game. Five is better than six and the No. 1 reason is there's a possibility we could host an NFC title game. It's unlikely but you want to give yourself that possibility," Lions Head Coach Jim Schwartz told Packers media on Wednesday.
Schwartz is making sure his team's focus doesn't stray from this Sunday's game, but who in Detroit hasn't already flashed forward to the postseason? After all, the Lions haven't been in the playoffs since 1999, when the team was still playing its games in the Silverdome.
Focus has been the buzz word for the Lions since Thanksgiving when, in a loss to the Packers, a stomping incident by defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh brought national attention to the Lions, caused Suh to be suspended for two games and threatened to ruin the Lions' season. Impressively, Schwartz rallied his team to three wins in four games, and the Lions will come to Green Bay this week off a 38-10 scorching of what was a red-hot Chargers team.
This, we are to believe, is a different Lions team from the one the Packers dismantled on Thanksgiving. Since then, the Lions have found discipline.
"We understood what it was doing to our team. We can't win when we do that and we're all here to win. We've done a great job of limiting those the last couple of weeks," quarterback Matt Stafford said of post-play penalties, such as Suh's famous stomp of Packers guard Evan Dietrich-Smith.
"You can't lose your composure. We had a couple of situations at the end of the San Diego game that we were very comfortably in the lead and we were going to win the game, and there were situations that arose on the field and our players did a good job of walking away from those," Schwartz said.
Be that as it may: "This is football. We're not playing chess. This is not social club. We're trying our best to physically beat the person in front of us," Schwartz added.
Schwartz and Stafford talked as though the plan on Sunday does not include resting players.
"It would give us the fifth seed in the playoffs. That alone would be big for us. We'd finish the regular season with 11 wins instead of 10," Schwartz said.
"Whether they rest guys, it doesn't really matter to us," Stafford said.
The Lions opened their season in the heat of Tampa and will finish the regular season in icy conditions in Green Bay. A dome team, the Lions haven't played a game this season in conditions similar to what they'll face on Sunday, but Schwartz expressed no concern.
"You win with good players that are well-coached and not because you're used to hot or cold. I'm sure weather will be an issue, but it won't change our preparation," he said.
It's a game, however, that will prepare them to play outdoors in the postseason, especially if they are to return to Lambeau two weeks later. Additional coverage - Dec. 28