ALLEN PARK - Sunday's home finale between the Detroit Lions and the Cincinnati Bengals will be worth watching if for one reason. No, not the Millen Man March or the Angry Fan March or any of the other protests that are likely to take place outside the stadium prior to game time.
The matchup between Cincinnati Bengals' flamboyant wide receiver Chad Johnson and Detroit Lions corner Dre' Bly. Bly and Johnson are two of the NFL's marquee performers and they will be locked up against each other on Sunday.
It's likely the only thing that makes this game palatable, the Bengals are favored by seven points over the hapless Lions. Johnson, for his part, can't wait to go mano-a-mano against one of the league's premier cover corners.
"Of course! I can't wait to see Dré, I haven't seen Bly in a long time. This should be fun," Johnson said.
Johnson said Bly is one of the three he has marked on his list as the toughest challenges he'll face all season. The other two are Buffalo's Nate Clemens and Green Bay's Al Harris.
"I love Dré. I have been with him, we were down at the Pro Bowl, we talked, and I have studied him all week," said Johnson. "He is what I call a very difficult opponent to beat because he plays the mind game at defensive back. He is very, very smart. He is a very intelligent guy as a defensive back. He is going to be one of my biggest challenges all year," Johnson said salavating at the thought of the matchup.
"Actually, there have only been three challenges from my standpoint as quality DB's and this is one of them. I am looking to going in and having a good game. It is going to be a big challenge."
Bly said he's also looking forward to the challenge, perhaps as motivation to give the fans back something following Detroit's frustating season.
"Chad and I battled some at the Pro Bowl," said Bly of the matchup, "but we never had a chance to go up against each other. I know I'm on his so-called list, but that comes with football. He knows he's going to be mirrored by the best cornerback on the opposing team and I know I'm covering the best receiver."
Should Johnson make a play to get past Bly into the endzone, Dre' says he won't hold any grudges if he decides to celebrate.
"If he makes a play, I expect him to express himself. Whenever I make a play out there, I express myself, so there's nothing to it. Chad's probably working on something right now. If I make a play and get in the end zone, it's whatever comes to mind, but I'm not going to do anything like drop down to my knees to a cheerleader, we don't have any cheerleaders."
Bly was referencing a previous Johnson celebration, in which he imitated proposing to a Bengals' cheerleader after scoring a touchdown.
Lions head coach Dick Jauron says he'll do his part to give the fans what they want by allowing Bly to shadow Johnson.
"We have done it before so there is a chance that we will do it," said Jauron on matching Bly with the opponent's top receiving threat. "Dré has always responded well to those situations, last year and this year. It is something he thrives on; he loves that competition and that one-on-one competition. It is a possibility in this situation."
Other than Bly, the Lions have little to offer in the way of resistance to the Cincinnati offensive attack, Earl Holmes, Boss Bailey and Donte' Curry are all doubtful to play on Sunday. With Teddy Lehman and Alex Lewis on injured reserve and Nate Wayne dinged up, Detroit may have to trot out some unlikely defenders. Bailey could be out for the season.
"We have been unlucky in that regard and it definitely takes a toll with Teddy (Lehman) and Boss (Bailey) and Alex (Lewis) and now Earl and Boss again," said Jauron. "Everybody has injuries and the next guy has to step up. It is an opportunity for that person to perform."
Who can the Lions turn to in the absence of their top five linebackers?
"If Earl can't go, Donté will probably be in the middle. Donté didn't practice today either. If Donté can't go, we have LeVar Woods who is with us too."
No one really knows what will transpire on Sunday with regard to the Millen Man March or the Angry Fan March, but there will be a fan protest. Will it have an effect on the Ford family that own the Lions? Maybe. While some are pooh-poohing the idea that the family would make a change based on fan reaction, bad publicity has a way of making a difference. The Ford family has been losing for a long time and if the protest makes a splash, it could draw the national spotlight on the sad-sack franchise and make the family a little more introspective.
A growing rumor that is making the rounds has the Ford family approaching FOX sports analyst (haven't you heard that one before?) Jimmy Johnson to work as a consultant in the same sort of way the Houston Texans hired Dan Reeves to work within their organization. If hired, Johnson would fire Millen and revamp the entire Detroit organization. Johnson did not have much success in a similar role in Miami but was a Super Bowl winner in Dallas.
If the Lions lose next week in San Antonio to the New Orleans Saints, they would move ahead of the Saints in the race for the top draft pick. While Houston (1-12) appears to have the Reggie Bush sweepstakes on lock, Detroit could get in a position to grab some more talent for their sad-sack franchise. One player who ought to get a long look is Ohio State linebacker A.J. Hawk.
Defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka of Boston College is another. In any instance, Detroit needs to address the defense and find a coaching staff rather than waste another top-10 pick on its offense.