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Inconsistent Lions still control own destiny

The SportsXchange

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The Detroit Lions still control their destiny in terms of winning the NFC North and earning at least one home playoff game. But are they really in control?

They have technically been in control of their own destiny since beating the Chicago Bears in Week 10 to reach a 6-3 record. But you would think a team truly in control would have secured the division title by now and not given away a home loss to Tampa Bay or found a way to blow fourth quarter leads in three of their last four games.

Amazingly, the mathematical truth remains the same. If the Lions (7-6) can win their three remaining games, against the Baltimore Ravens on Monday, then the New York Giants and at the Minnesota Vikings, they will play their first home playoff game since 1993.

"Obviously, we are in a race for the division title," coach Jim Schwartz said. "We have three games to play. You say it all the time, but you can't really worry about what's happened in the past. You have to keep your eyes focused on the future.

"It starts Monday night with the Ravens. That's about all you can really say about that."

Having control of your destiny should feel more secure than it seems to with the Lions. For every positive, there is a corresponding negative.

--Two of the three games are at home, but since Schwartz became head coach, the Lions have never won two home games in consecutive weeks. They are 0-13 when they've had a chance to.

--The combined record of their last three opponents is 15-23-1. But the Lions, with losses to Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay, have already proven how meaningless strength of schedule is in the NFL.

"Every game is tough in the NFL," Schwartz said. "It starts back in April when the schedule comes out. Everyone looks at the games and says that's a win, that's a loss. You just never know. There were some teams that weren't playing well at the beginning of the year that ended playing well."

--Three wins will lock it up and the Lions under Schwartz have had three winning streaks of at least three games. But, the team's record in the second halves of the season under Schwartz is 11-25.

"The playoffs start in a couple of weeks but for us, the playoffs are starting now," running back Reggie Bush said. "Every game is kind of win or go home. We have to understand the unique opportunity and the situation we're in right now.

"It's going to be a playoff atmosphere on Monday. Every game from here on out is going to be a playoff atmosphere. There is nothing more that needs to be said from a talking standpoint."

The Lions are currently the No. 4 seed in the NFC behind Seattle (11-2), New Orleans (10-3) and Philadelphia (8-5). Their margin for error has shrunk to maybe a shade above zero.

The Bears (7-6) and Green Bay Packers (6-6-1) have zero margin for error. The Lions have the tiebreaker over the Bears and the Packers have one less victory.

The Bears, who are playing their best football right now even without starting quarterback Jay Cutler and their best defender cornerback Charles Tillman, will play at Cleveland (4-9) on a short week, then at Philadelphia and home against the Packers.

The Packers play at Dallas (7-6), home against Pittsburgh (5-8) and then at Chicago. They still have a puncher's chance to steal this division, a chance that would be greatly enhanced if starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers could return. That has not yet been determined.

For the Lions, though, the math is real simple. Three wins and they play host to a playoff spot. One more loss and destiny becomes a free agent. The Lions would need somebody to trip up the Bears and Packers.

"We have two straight at home and we have to go them," cornerback Chris Houston said. "We can't get down on ourselves. We are still in good position in our division. I think we like when our backs are against the wall - we just go out and fight."

Put up your dukes, then, because that wall is right there.

SERIES HISTORY: 4th regular-season meeting. The Lions trail the series 1-2. The teams last played in Baltimore in 2009. It was Baltimore-native Jim Schwartz's first year as head coach and his was shellacked 48-3. The Lions' only win came at Ford Field, 35-17, in 2005. The team's first met in 1998 and it turned out to be the final game of Barry Sanders' career. He had 19 carries for 41 yards and finished nine yards short of his fifth straight 1,500-yard season.

--RB Reggie Bush (calf) said he expects to be able to practice this week. The Lions' first full practice this week is Thursday.

--DE Ziggy Ansah (shoulder) took treatment Wednesday. It is unknown how much he will be able to practice this week.

--RT LaAdrian Waddle (elbow) is expected to practice this week.
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