Forget the playoffs.
Forget seeding, forget tiebreakers, forget "playoff pictures" and magic numbers and division records and common opponents. The Detroit Lions need to win for their own sake.
The Lions have been a tale of two teams. There's the explosive young team that started 5-0, dominating at home, rallying on the road and owning their turf on Monday Night Football. Then, there's the fragile young team that's gone 2-5 since, repeatedly shooting themselves in the foot and failing to capitalize on many opportunities.
Matthew Stafford has gone from an astonishing level of mistake-free quarterback play to just "great." After throwing just four interceptions in his first seven games, Stafford has thrown a whopping 10 in his last four.
Calvin Johnson's production has fallen from "best of all-time" to just "first-team All-Pro." After nine touchdowns in his first five games, he's had just three in his last seven.
The defense has been hung out to dry by the turnovers, third-down whiffs and penalties of the offense. Without a significant drop-off in per-play yardage allowed, they've gone from the seventh-best scoring defense in the NFL to being ranked 21st.
For the fourth time this season, the Lions are facing a struggling opponent after a faith-shaking performance. The first three times, the Lions hung 40-plus points on the other team in a blowout victory. They'll need to do that again today.
Following this contest against the Minnesota Vikings, the Lions have two winnable games before going into their ultimate test: Lambeau Field. They need to get back into their early-season form if they want to take momentum into a place where they haven't won since 1991.
Perhaps no opponent is better suited to taking out frustrations on than the Vikings. Both all-world tailback Adrian Peterson and first-round rookie quarterback Christian Ponder are listed as questionable on the official NFL injury report, and if either can't go, the Vikings will be hard-pressed to score points. Meanwhile, the Vikings defense is the second-worst scoring defense in football, per Pro Football Reference.
To top it off, Vikings defensive end Jared Allen continued his longstanding feud with the Lions by saying he'd "drown himself" in the Detroit River were he forced to live in the Motor City.
With every motivation to come out on top: postseason chances, talent advantage and personal vendetta, the Lions must win this Sunday. If they don't, they never deserved the playoffs anyway.
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