Could Lions’ dream really come true?

RYAN STIEG

Brace yourselves Detroit Lions fans, because the unthinkable could happen in a few weeks.

The Motor City Kitties are sitting atop the NFL’s NFC North at 9-4, two games ahead of both Minnesota and Green Bay and have recently become a trendy pick to contend for the conference title in January.

Did anybody see this coming? I sure didn’t. I thought the Lions could nab a wild-card spot, but Green Bay was supposed to cruise to a division championship. Now the question is whether Detroit can pull it off and satisfy its long-suffering fan base.

On the surface, it probably won’t end that way. However, the 2016 in sports has been vastly different than years past. A noodle-armed Nationwide Insurance spokesman — Peyton Manning — won the Super Bowl, while his defense drove Cam Newton into the turf, and he managed to plug two brand names in the post-game festivities.

In April, Villanova managed to take down the best team in the country, North Carolina, and did so in dramatic fashion. After doing so, its head coach stoically shook hands with the opposing one and “celebrated” with the enthusiasm of a guy standing in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

In June, the Pittsburgh Penguins won their third Stanley Cup with the help of a backup goaltender and the spirit of a former pro wrestler. Later that month, Cleveland’s adopted son, LeBron James — he technically is from nearby Akron — carried all of its angst and depression on his shoulders, led a furious comeback in the NBA Finals and created “Fun times in Cleveland again” for the first time in more than half a century.

In August, American athletes dominated the Rio Summer Olympics despite dealing with polluted water, a lime-green diving pool and some of the swimmers not being able to control their bladders while out in public.

Most recently in November, the Chicago Cubs ended the longest championship drought in professional sports in the most thrilling way possible. They took a big lead early in Game 7, blew it later in the game, went up again in extra innings and then held on by the skin of their teeth. As a result, millions from a very devoted fan base, including yours truly, went to bed in a state of pure joy, while at the same time wondering if we would ever see it happen again.

Now it could be the Lions’ chance. Unlike some of the teams previously mentioned whose playoff performances were devastating for many years, the Lions rarely sniff the postseason. And when they do earn a spot, the happy feeling disappears quickly in the first round.

They have the quarterback to lead them. Matthew Stafford has gotten mixed reviews from fans in the past, but he’s put on a stellar performance so far this fall. He’s set the single-season record for comebacks and currently has the best passer rating of his career. Stafford also has a more balanced receiving corps this year instead of being forced to throw deep balls to Calvin Johnson. He has Golden Tate, Anquan Boldin, Marvin Jones and Eric Ebron, and a decent pass-catching running back in Theo Riddick.

The Lions’ defense is pretty good, especially against the run. Unfortunately, Detroit struggles against the pass, which could cause problems against pass-happy teams like Atlanta or Washington. If that’s who they face in the playoffs, the Lions will have to depend on Stafford to get them to the next round. He’s shown that he can do it during the regular season, but the postseason is entirely different.

All in all, I think the Lions will win the North Division, and if things go well, they could go the distance. (I’m also sober, just to clarify).

However, they’ll have to play at a level that the franchise hasn’t attained in nearly 60 years, which would be quite a feat.

So don’t stop believing, Lions fans. You may actually get to celebrate something big at the end of the season.

If the Cavaliers and the Cubs can overcome years of torment and win a title, surely you can, too. The odds are long, but if there’s one thing this year has taught us, it’s that the unthinkable can definitely happen.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.