During Major League Baseball’s pennant season, we all become familiar with the term “scoreboard watching.” Given the limited number of teams that make the post-season, and the sheer number of games played on a daily basis, seeing how your competition is doing is a pennant race ritual.
Although not a term usually associated with pro football, I have officially become a scoreboard watcher for the Detroit Lions, a mere 4 games into the 2011 season.
The reason is simple. If we are honest with ourselves, it doesn’t appear that the Lions – no matter how good they have played – are going to win their division. Given the way the Packers are playing, it is pretty evident that the Packers will likely win the NFC North division, meaning that the Lions must be a wildcard team in order to make the playoffs. Seeing as how I have seen approximately 2 Lions playoffs in my life, I am ok with this. However, having been a Lions fan since the days of Ronald Reagan, I also know that nothing is guaranteed – even after a 4-0 start. I can still remember hearing the song “Another One Bites the Dust” – the 1980 Detroit Lions theme song after they started 4-0 – reverberating in my head. And yes, the Lions didn’t make the playoffs that year, so watching other team’s games and hoping for losses is in my blood.
To earn a wild card berth, a team competes with other NFC teams that didn’t win their division. There are four divisions in the NFC, and only two wild card teams. If we assume for a moment that the division winners in the NFC are the Packers, Saints, Giants, and 49’ers, that means it is likely that the following teams will be in the hunt for two wild card spots – the Lions, Bears, Buccaneers, Eagles, Redskins, and the Cowboys.
And this is where the scoreboard watching, and the upcoming game against the Bears, is so important. The first tie breaker for wildcard teams, among teams with the same record, is head-to-head play. The Lions did themselves a huge favor by beating Tampa Bay and Dallas – two teams that they will be fighting for a wildcard berth. Not only did it put a mark in the loss column for those teams, it also gave the Lions a tiebreaker advantage if both teams wind up with the same record. I can’t see the Redskins sustaining their winning, so they are likely out. The Eagles likely will earn a playoff as spot as a wild card team, despite their struggles to date.
That leaves us to consider the Chicago Bears – the team the Lions are scheduled to face on Monday night. Not only a division rival, but they are also a rival for a wild card spot. A win for the Lions would reaffirm many things – the Lions can really play on national TV, the Lions can beat division foes, the Lions can handle success – but most importantly it gives the Lions, for a moment, the tie breaker advantage. With another win over Chicago on the road later in the season, the Lions could be in a position to knock another team out of the wild card hunt.
There for sure is a lot of season left. But beating the Bears on Monday night would be a significant step towards a playoff game – and hopefully a new theme song.