In many ways, Monday night on national television could have looked a lot different for the Detroit Lions. There could have been a chance the Lions could have clinched the division against the Baltimore Ravens. But with everything set up well for Detroit in the division, the Lions could not close it out.
"It's there for the taking, but we have to go out and take it," Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said. "That starts with the Ravens on Monday night. Last time we left Ford Field, we were feeling really good about ourselves with the win over Green Bay on Thanksgiving.
"We have to get that feeling back. We know our crowd will make a difference for us. I think you'll see that from our players."
Detroit has to. Its season might depend on it. So how do the Lions accomplish this? Here are the four keys.
Deal with the pressure: The Lions spent all week saying essentially different variations of the playoffs are starting now. Well, Detroit got what it wanted. With Chicago winning on the road at Cleveland, the Lions need to beat Baltimore to keep pace with the Bears in the NFC North and hold on to a playoff spot for the time being. And if the Lions lose Monday, then they drop to third in the division.
This is the way it is going to be for Detroit the rest of the season and the Lions, if they are going to be a playoff team like they say they want to be, have to be able to deal with it. The Lions have vacillated between being very good and very bad in games like this over the course of this season.
Pressure Flacco: Joe Flacco likes to find receivers downfield when he can and is eighth in the NFL in air yards per attempt. Considering Detroit's depleted cornerback situation -- it'd be surprising if Chris Houston or Darius Slay played Monday night -- the Lions front four needs to be able to reach Flacco at the rate they reached Matt Flynn on Thanksgiving in order to cause disruptions in the passing game. Detroit did this to Flynn by taking away his first read, but the Lions also had a healthy-enough secondary then. They don't now, so Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley, Ziggy Ansah and Willie Young need to get to Flacco early.
Stop the turnovers: This is becoming a weekly topic, but considering the Lions' lack of margin for error both in games and in the season at this point, they need to have a game where they are not careless with the ball. Detroit hasn't had a game without a turnover since facing Cincinnati in October and haven't had a game with less than three turnovers since the win over Chicago in Week 10.
Baltimore has only picked off nine passes this season, so the Ravens aren't exactly an opportunistic defense. Detroit can't have that switch on Monday night.
Give help on the outside: Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham and Schwartz both expressed confidence in Jonte Green and Chris Greenwood, the two likely candidates to line up opposite Rashean Mathis at cornerback. The Lions have to trust Mathis will be able to hang with Torrey Smith, especially since Green or Greenwood might need help with Marlon Brown (36 catches, 412 yards, six touchdowns) on the other side. Bill Bentley or Don Carey will also have a difficult assignment with speedster Jacoby Jones in the slot, but the matchup between Green/Greenwood and Brown could be a big factor Monday.