And so it comes down to this: Although the Detroit Lions control their destiny a bit — a win over the Green Bay Packers on national TV tonight would give them nine wins for just the sixth time this century, lock up a winning record for the first time since 2016 and deny the Packers a playoff spot for the third time in 14 seasons — they still need some help.
Yes, as you might have heard this week, they need the L.A. Rams to take down the Seahawks in Seattle in the NFL’s late afternoon window — with kickoff about four hours before the Lions get started in Wisconsin — for that win to clinch a playoff spot. Otherwise, the Lions are playing just to spite the Packers. (Hey, that’s more than they’ve had in most season finales.)
A few months ago, this scenario might not have seemed like a problem. Not only were the Lions coming off a 3-13-1 record, but the Rams’ starting QB, one could argue, owed the franchise with which he spent his first 12 NFL seasons (after going No. 1 overall in 2009) a little something after winning the Super Bowl in his first year in L.A.
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Alas, that QB, who shall remain nameless for at least a few more paragraphs, is out for the season. As is his backup, who shall remain nameless because, well, he’s the backup. And so the Lions’ playoff hopes, slim as they are after a 1-6 start and a loss in Week 16 to Carolina, rest on a different No. 1 overall pick: Baker Mayfield, set to make his fifth start at quarterback in blue and gold and “bone.”
Mayfield, of course, is on his third NFL franchise — in the past 12 months. Sooo … no worries? But when he hasn’t been slinging the ol’ pigskin for the
Sooners Browns Panthers Rams, he’s also put in some time slinging insurance as one of many, many spokespeople for Progressive Insurance. There’s something almost soothing about the Lions’ playoff chances coming down to the performance of someone whose job it is to sell us on the ability to recover from horrific disasters. (Not to mention someone drafted No. 1 after an 0-16 season, ahem.)
And yet … honestly? We can think of at least nine commercial pitchsters we’d trust with the Lions’ playoff hopes more, starting with …
9. Matthew Stafford
Duh. Perhaps the pressure of pitching “Pizza! Pizza” to the nation was too much for the ex-Lion’s neck. It can’t be a coincidence that in the season he became the face of Little Caesars’ new “official pizza to the NFL” status, he played in just nine games due to head and spine injuries (and had one of his worst seasons when healthy). Still, no one has won more big games for the Lions this century than Stafford. No one has lost more big games, either, but, well, Lions …
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8. Reggie Bush
Let’s stick with the theme of “former Lions” for the running back who’s now apparently a permanent resident of Wendy’s, if the commercials are to be believed. In most seasons, we’d be pining for his rushing ability — he’s still the most recent Lions back to reach 1,000 yards, picking up 1,006 in 2013. But Jamaal Williams just 6 yards from 1,000, and 13 yards from passing Bush (not to mention two TDs from setting the single-season rushing TD record), so Bush’s rampant enthusiasm for a catchphrase — “It’s your boy, BIGGIEEEE!” might wind up more handy. And we do love a good catchphrase …
7. Mike Morse
All he does is go for the win. Whoops, make that commercial co-star Mike Morris, the reigning Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year at Michigan. Then again, he hasn’t declared his NFL draft plans, with a Jan. 16 deadline. Then again, again, defensive lineman might be the one spot the Lions are stacked at tonight and next season, with rookies James Houston and Aidan Hutchinson totaling 15½ sacks in 22 games combined. Morris might be a nice insurance policy. While we’re on the topic …
6. Dennis Haysbert
Before he was shilling insurance for Allstate or serving as President of the United States on “24,” Haysbert starred as “Pedro Cerrano” in the “Major League” movies, so he knows a little something about turning around a cursed franchise. Our big question: Is it too late to get Jobu his own locker at Lambeau? (While we’re at it, the first “Major League” film was actually shot at the Brewers’ Milwaukee County Stadium, so Haysbert knows about winning in the state of Wisconsin, too.)
5. Kevin Miles
Sticking with the insurance theme … OK, the actor better known as “Jake from State Farm” is actually a Chicago sports fan, but we suspect he wouldn’t mind seeing the Packers go down on Sunday night. And few of the folks on our list have more experience actually dealing with Aaron Rodgers, which is definitely important; the QB has a career 18-7 record against the Lions while completing 65% of his passes for 6,346 yards, 53 TDs and just 11 interceptions. Woof, there are a lot of insurance commercials these days ….
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4. The Geico Gecko
Still, we’re not trying to find a roster spot for the LiMu Emu, no matter how good his 40 time is. But we’ll admit to a soft spot for the smallest guy on the field who still produces at a big level. Just like the two shortest Lions: 5-foot-8 Kalif Raymond (the team’s second-leading receiver, with 43 catches for 550 yards) and 5-9 D’Andre Swift (who has 517 yards rushing and 328 yards receiving). But are we done with lawyers?
3. Geoffrey Fieger
Nope! There’s always the longtime Michigan attorney (and former candidate for governor) whose catchphrase is “An Army of One.” Which, now that we think about sounds more like a catchphrase for Rodgers … or his top receiving threat, Christian Watson. The, uh, No. 1 pick of the No. 2 round in April 2022 could have been a Lion, but GM Brad Holmes dealt the pick to Minnesota (which then dealt the pick to Green Bay) to move up and take Jameson Williams at No. 12 overall. If Watson scores and Williams doesn’t, why, it would almost be “Intolerable Cruelty,” which brings us to …
2. George Clooney
The only thing rarer than a Lions win in Wisconsin over the past three decades — they’re 3-28 in the state since the start of the 1992 season — is seemingly pulling a heist in a Las Vegas casino, and that’s where the Nespresso spokes-actor comes in, or at least his alter ego in the “Ocean’s 11” trilogy, Danny Ocean. If we see Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts in the stands at Lambeau, we’ll know something’s up. While we’re in Hollywood, let’s check in with …
1. Ryan Reynolds
When he’s not running a Welsh soccer team, trying to buy the Ottawa Senators or making commercials for his cellular service company or his brand of gin — OK, that’s a lot of side hustles — he’s dressing up in red and black (yes, Ottawa, but what about the Red Wings’ Reverse Retro sweaters?) as “Deadpool.” The Marvel Comics character, uh, can’t be killed, thanks to a mutant healing factor … which sounds a lot like the Lions’ playoff hopes after, again, starting this season at 1-6.
Then again … if we could rely on things like mutant healing factors, well, we’d have Stafford starting for the Rams instead of Mayfield, wouldn’t we?