The Detroit Lions have a chance to put their years of misery even further in the past.
The Lions' first attempt to clinch their first playoff berth since 1999, however, will come against a surging San Diego Chargers team that's seeking to bolster its own postseason hopes Saturday at Ford Field.
The simplest way Detroit (9-5) can secure its long-awaited trip to the playoffs is by getting one more victory - either beating San Diego (7-7) or winning at Green Bay in the season finale. There are three more complex scenarios for clinching that each involves the results of four other teams, but Lions coach Jim Schwartz wants his club to take the more direct route to the postseason.
"We need to beat the San Diego Chargers," Schwartz said. "We are not playing the out-of-town scoreboard. We are not playing anything other than the Chargers. The team does a good job of getting the focus each week, and that is what we need to go do this week. Everybody knows where we are. Everybody knows what is at stake."
With a rejuvenated offense, San Diego might not make it easy on Schwartz's team. The Chargers have averaged 36.3 points in their three consecutive wins after putting up 21.5 per contest during a six-game losing streak.
Philip Rivers has helped his team outscore the last three opponents 109-38 with seven touchdown passes and no interceptions. Running back Ryan Mathews has also gained 453 of his 1,033 yards over the last four games and reached the end zone three times over the past three.
Mathews scored a pair of touchdowns and Rivers threw for another during Sunday night's 34-14 rout of Baltimore. The surprisingly lopsided win moved the Chargers within a game of first-place Denver in the AFC West and into a tie for second with Oakland.
Winning the division may be the Chargers' best hope of earning their sixth playoff berth in eight seasons, although San Diego is also one of three teams a game behind the New York Jets and Cincinnati in the race for the AFC's final wild-card berth.
"The only thing that matters to us is we've got to find a way to win this week," coach Norv Turner said. "We'll see what happens on the weekend and then we've got to find a way to win when we go to Oakland."
Turner's club, though, will likely face a revved-up team that's looking to take another step away from a miserable portion of its history, which includes the only 0-16 finish in league history in 2008. Before their four consecutive wins to conclude last season, the Lions had dropped 47 of 52, including an NFL-record 26 straight on the road.
After starting 5-0 for the first time in 55 years, Detroit looked like it might easily end its playoff drought, but a 2-5 stretch put that in jeopardy. The Lions have gotten back into the driver's seat with consecutive wins - the latest in stunning fashion.
With his team trailing by 13, Matthew Stafford threw a pair of touchdowns in the final five minutes in Oakland, including a 6-yarder to Calvin Johnson with 39 seconds left. Lions star defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh then blocked a desperate 65-yard field goal attempt to seal the 28-27 victory, making an impact in his return from a two-game suspension.
"The biggest thing for me is I've dealt with it and I'm moving past it," he said. "I'm happy to be back on the field with my team."
The win, combined with losses by the Bears and Giants, moved the Lions two games ahead of a group of four 7-7 teams. Currently in line for the NFC's No. 6 seed, Detroit could move past Atlanta for the No. 5 spot, although the Falcons hold the tiebreaker because of a 23-16 win in Detroit on Oct. 23.
For now, the Lions are simply focused on clinching a spot in the postseason, and they will try to do that in front of their 13th consecutive sellout crowd.
"It's a dream scenario," defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch said. "Christmas Eve, we've got a home game. It would be nice. You couldn't write a better story. We're excited about this opportunity."
Detroit is facing the Chargers for the first time since losing 51-14 in San Diego on Dec. 16, 2007. The Lions have dropped six in a row to the Chargers, including home matchups in 1999 and 2003.
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