With the NFL nearing the mid-way point of this season, the next 3-to-4 games are as crucial as any yet seen this season for the Detroit Lions.
Admittedly, I am as shocked just as probably everyone else is when I look around the league at the current standings.
While New England, Philadelphia, and Minnesota are far from Cinderella teams, Pittsburgh (5-1), Jacksonville (5-2), and Detroit (4-2) are about as close as you can get to labeling one this early in the season.
Every year there are several teams in this league that come busting out of the gates. They typically play well for a few weeks, look good in the stat sheets, then fade as the season wears on while the true competition gears for their respective playoff runs.
An actual winning record and a semblance of optimism at this point of the season is something that Lions fans have not seen for nearly five years.
Unfortunately, Detroit lost five of their next nine games, including the heart breaking 23-20 loss to Chicago from the strong legs of Paul Edinger to withhold the Lions from their second straight playoff appearance and third in four years.
I look at the upcoming stretch in the Lions schedule to be just as important as it was in 2000.
First of all, the next two games are must-wins.
The team is facing a Cowboys ball club that is currently in shambles. They are in the midst of a three game losing streak which featured a lackluster performance against the Giants, a last minute collapse against Pittsburgh, and worst of all, a performance against the Packers, which minus any Parcells' expletives, would be described as humbling.
The problem is, even though close to 90% of the current roster hasn't been in Detroit for more than three years, this is a franchise that always seems to lose these games.
The Lions were supposed to lose to the electric Atlanta Falcons. The Lions were supposed to beat the anemic Packers. The Lions were supposed to lose to the cruising Giants. Notice a trend here?
After the Cowboys, the Lions get one of those dreadful home games against the Washington Redskins.
An entire thesis could be written on merely the tenure of Daniel Snyder. One of the few owners in professional football that would invest in state-of-the-art cup-holders if he thought it would give his team an advantage on the field.
The Lions have proven this season that if they are faced off against a team with a strong rushing game and a questionable air attack, their run defense will step up force the QB into uncomfortable passing situations.
If the best-case scenario happens and the Lions do in fact win the next two games, it would have remarkable bearings on the rest of the season.
After Washington, the team will see Jacksonville, Minnesota, and Indianapolis in consecutive weeks; match-ups where you will likely see the odds-makers leaning toward the other side of the field heavily in each account, which brings up the next idea.
If the Lions improve to 6-2, the following three games will be tough, but they won't be expected to win and, even though I hate to admit it, they could afford to lose a few games with that record.
While I don't recommend throwing in the towel before a contest, the balance of the season won't be dependant on how they do in those three tough games stuck in the middle of the road.
Then again, maybe I am thinking way too much about the future and I should just concentrate on the season from week to week. So should the Lions.