December 19th, 2017
That odd time of the NFL season
when we cheer for other teams
By KEITH GAVE
So, I found myself rooting so hard for the Green Bay Packers on Sunday that I was starting to feel like a Yooper. You know, those fans Up North across the bridge, who, by fate of geographic state boundaries, have a real football team to cheer for while we trolls beneath the Big Mac are stuck with the Lions.
I even sounded like a U.P native. Every time the Packers made a big play, I’d scream, “Ya, sure! You betcha!” And every time their trusty but rusty quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, threw the ball to the wrong team, ruining an important drive, I heard myself cussing – in Finnish.
And even though I spent nearly 24 hours in Helsinki on a clandestine mission to meet two young Soviet hockey players and encourage them to defect to the Detroit Red Wings (it’s all in the book, “The Russian Five” – available now on Amazon.com), I don’t speak a word of Finnish.
My uncharacteristic cheering, sadly, was to no avail. Carolina prevailed over the Pack, and the Lions’ longshot playoff chances became even more remote.
With victories by Minnesota, which clinched the NFC North, and the Panthers, the path to the playoffs narrowed considerably. Trying to calculate Detroit’s chances to advance for the third time in four seasons under coach Jim Caldwell is harder than Chinese arithmetic.
But we know this much for sure: The Lions have to win their final two games, at Cincinnati on Sunday and at home to my short-lived recent favorite team, Green Bay. And they’ll need help. Quite a bit of it, actually.
By beating Chicago, 20-10, with workmanlike efficiency in Week 15, the Lions improved to 8-6, so they remain on life support, at least.
That leaves the Lions’ lone hope resting on an NFC wild-card berth for the second straight season. And those odds took a hit when the Carolina Panthers topped the Green Bay Packers in Aaron Rodgers’ first game back from a broken collarbone.
The Panthers improved to 10-4 to take complete control of the first wild-card spot. They also own the head-to-head tiebreaker with a win over the Lions. Their only chance is to somehow steal the No. 6 seed, now held by Atlanta.
Like Carolina, the Falcons hold the head-to-head tiebraker over Detroit, along with a better conference record.
The Lions aren’t the only team chasing Atlanta. Seattle and Dallas also stand at 8-6. In the event of a tie with either the Seahawks or the Cowboys, Detroit would advance by virtue of a better conference record or its record against common opponents.
However, if Detroit and Atlanta wind up tied at 10-6? The Falcons advance because of that gut-wrenching 30-26 loss to the Falcons at Ford Field when an apparent touchdown catch to Golden Tate was reversed with 1.8 seconds left – and then, by rule, 10 seconds had to run off the clock, ending the game and preventing the Lions from taking one more shot at the end zone.
Because of that, the Atlanta Falcons (8-5), occupy the second wild-card as the No. 6 seed. Even if the Lions win their final two games, they need Atlanta to lose two of their next three games, starting tonight against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Falcons close their season with two difficult games, at New Orleans on Sunday and against Carolina at the same time (1 p.m.) the Lions and Packers kick-off on New Year’s Eve.
So it starts tonight, and you can bet the Lions will be watching.
“Oh certainly,” Caldwell told reporters Monday when asked if he’d be watching tonight’s game. “but my watching the game is not going to have anything to do with the outcome, not one thing.
“So, we watch, we see what happens, but the fact of the matter is what we’re concerned about is what we have control over. That’s how we prepare, how we practice, how we play and most importantly, against Cincinnati.”
Makes perfect sense. My rooting for Tampa Bay (4-9) won’t have anything to do with the outcome either. But what the hell.
Go Bucs! (Kinda threw up in my mouth just now, even thinking of cheering for a dumpster-fire of a human being like Jameis Winston.)
I’m just wondering how I’ll sound with a Florida accent.