The odds are long, and they seem even longer because the Lions have lost five consecutive games. But the Lions still cling to the hope that they can make the playoffs for the first time since 1999.
To do it, they know they must stop their losing streak Sunday at San Diego, then finish with victories over Kansas City and Green Bay.
Every Wednesday, coach Rod Marinelli gives his players a message about where they stand in the grand scheme of things. This week, his message was simple.
"The season's still not over," running back T.J. Duckett said. "We've still got to go out. We've still got to play. We've still got to show up and just go out and practice hard. Bottom line. No one's feeling sorry for us. We're not feeling sorry for ourselves. We just have to keep working."
Was the P-word in there anywhere?
"It's still in there, but it doesn't matter unless you win," Duckett said. "We haven't won in five weeks. So right now, we've just got to talk about winning a game."
The Lions haven't won in five weeks, but it's hard to tell whether they're in better shape or worse shape mentally than they were a week ago.
They lost Dec. 2 at Minnesota, 42-10. They were awful. They lacked effort. They looked finished.
But they showed a lot of heart Sunday, only to have it broken when Dallas scored with 18 seconds left to beat them, 28-27.
Some think the Dallas game will encourage the Lions.
"We played well," Duckett said. "We didn't play well enough to win the game, but we did better than we had in the previous weeks. So hopefully that will keep people motivated, keep people fired-up, to still try to prove to themselves and still try to make plays before the season is over."
Linebacker Ernie Sims said: "We're still together. We still got a shot to make it to the playoffs. We're not going to give up now. The season's not over with. We've still got three games left."
Others think the Dallas game will deflate the Lions, that it was their last gasp.
"Everything that you do is to get to the playoffs, because the playoffs is such a different season, so you feel like if you can just put your foot into the playoffs, anything can happen," offensive lineman Edwin Mulitalo said. "When you come to the realization -- whether it's this week or next week or the week after that -- that the playoffs are pretty much gone, that's when the mental part of the game, being a professional and all those things come into play."
Mulitalo said the Lions were still clinging to hope.
"That's all you can cling to," Mulitalo said. "That's the way I've always looked at it wherever I was. Whatever you have to cling on to, you just hold onto that bit as hard as possible until someone comes into your face and says, 'Show is over,' until they start flickering the lights and tell you to get out of the club."
The lights are flickering. But the Lions haven't quite left the club yet.
SERIES HISTORY: Ninth meeting. Chargers lead series, 5-3. The Lions won the first three meetings, all in the 1970s, then lost five straight. The last meeting was in 2003.
Individual Player Notes
GAME PLAN: The Lions need to take a lead and stay balanced on offense. Often this season, especially on the road, the Lions have fallen behind, abandoned the run, watched things snowball and lost by a large margin. The Chargers are capable of making them look bad. Defensively, the Lions must tackle better. They cannot let LaDainian Tomlinson make them look as silly as Adrian Peterson did a couple of weeks ago, and they cannot let Antonio Gates get yards after the catch like Dallas tight end Jason Witten did last week.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Chargers RB LaDainian Tomlinson, last year's NFL Most Valuable Player, vs. Lions defense. The Lions have had trouble tackling much lesser players. They cannot afford to struggle against a player this dangerous. They must stay aggressive but also stay fundamentally sound. They cannot be tentative and break down too early, as they did in a futile effort against Minnesota's Adrian Peterson two games ago.
Chargers TE Antonio Gates, one of the top tight ends in the NFL, vs. Lions pass defense, which allowed Jason Witten to catch 15 passes for 138 yards and a touchdown Sunday. The Lions played a lot of Cover 2 against the Cowboys to limit star wide receiver Terrell Owens. That opened up things for Witten, and the Lions didn't adjust -- at least not well enough. The Lions might key on Gates this time, leaving things open for the Chargers wideouts, none of whom is the threat Owens is.
Lions C Dominic Raiola, a 6-1, 295-pounder, vs. Chargers NT Jamal Williams, a 6-3, 348-pounder who has been to two Pro Bowls. The interior of the Lions offensive line played well Sunday against the Cowboys' 3-4 defense, as the Lions rushed for 152 yards. Now they face the Chargers' 3-4 defense. It's going to be even tougher. Raiola isn't going to be able to handle Williams all by himself. Guards Edwin Mulitalo and Stephen Peterman will have to help.
INJURY IMPACT: DT Shaun Rogers and CB Fernando Bryant both might play less than a full load of snaps Sunday. Rogers is limited by weight and knee problems, Bryant by an ankle injury.