Detroit Lions vs. Kansas City Chiefs: A Must-Win Game

Ty Schalter@tyschalterNFL National Lead WriterSeptember 16, 2011

Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham knows how important this matchup against his former team, the Kansas City Chiefs, is.
Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham knows how important this matchup against his former team, the Kansas City Chiefs, is.Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

The Detroit Lions opened their season with a win away against a quality opponent. That's no easy feat, especially given the Lions' recent history on the road.

Now, they'll return to Ford Field, where they played lights-out in the preseason, outscoring the Bengals and Patriots 68-13 in two decisive wins.

That the newly-potent Lions have played especially well at home is no surprise. Over the last 10 years, 29 of the Lions' 39 wins have come at home. When the Lions have drawn well—as they mostly have, despite their recent records—the Detroit crowds have been raucous.

This weekend the Lions will host an apparently toothless foe, the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs are reeling from a 41-7 home loss to the Bills, the worst season-opening defeat in Chiefs history. That the Chiefs are coming off a 2010 playoff appearance and the Bills from a 4-12 season made it all the more surprising.

According to, the Lions are currently favored by nine points, the biggest favorites they've been since Week 17 of 2000. The Lions lost that game, and as a consequence missed the playoffs. It was the frustration of that missed opportunity that caused Lions owner William Clay Ford, Sr. to let the coaching staff go and hire Matt Millen.

It's hard to believe the stakes are as high in Week 2 of 2011, but they just might be.

The Lions won in Week 1, but so did the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers. Per the Oakland Press, Martin Mayhew said he expects the Lions to contend for the NFC North Division Championship. With those two teams playing so well, the Lions cannot lose a winnable game.

The next four games will make or break the Lions' season. After this week, they travel to Minnesota, who showed surprisingly well in a 24-17 road loss to the San Diego Chargers. Then continue their road trip with a tough matchup against the Cowboys.

Finally, the entire nation will watch the Lions host the Bears on Monday Night Football.

If the Lions don't take care of the Chiefs, a Monday Night Football loss could put the Lions two, three or four games out of the division lead. All but the best-case scenario (the Lions sweep the Minnesota/Dalllas road trip) would likely end the Lions' division title hopes, and possibly their playoff hopes as well.

Obviously, there will be 14 more games after this one, and a 1-1 start shouldn't be the end of the world. But there are only seven more home games, and likely only a handful against struggling teams. Wins and losses at the beginning of the season count just as much as the ones at the end.

If the Lions lose this Sunday, and the season ends as it did in 2000—with a divisional loss and the playoffs just out of reach—people will blame the Lions' nineteen-season Lambeau losing streak. But they'd be more correct to pin the blame on the Lions' inability to beat a beatable Chiefs team at home.