Edson: Lions Eye First Division Title in 23 Years

The last time the Detroit Lions won a division title:

·         Five-year-old Matthew Stafford had just met his Little League baseball teammate, Los Angeles Dodgers pitching star Clayton Kershaw.

·         Barry Sanders was wowing Detroit Lions fans and the rest of the NFL on his way to the Hall of Fame.

·         O.J. Simpson was a multi-media star, having wrapped up a great NFL career and gone on to fame a fortune in movies, TV and ads. That would change a year later.

So considering those scenarios, it HAS been a long time since the Detroit Lions were division champions. Mind you, we’re not crowning them just yet. But we are crowing about them. After all, they have a two-game lead in the division with four games to go.

I can hear you now: “They’ll find a way to blow it.”

Well, no one said the path to the division title is going to be easy. It will appear that way this Sunday, when they host the Chicago Bears. But then the challenge gets tough: On the road at the New York Giants and Dallas before returning home to host Green Bay on the last day of the regular season, Jan. 1.

Still, after an impressive win on the road at New Orleans on Sunday, it’s hard to argue that the Lions are on a roll. They have won seven of their last eight games.

And instead of having to win with a fourth quarter rally again, they captured this game because of their defense. Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin and his players deserve kudos for intercepting Hall of Famer to be quarterback Drew Brees three times and holding him without a touchdown pass.

And Matthew Stafford? He came up with the biggest play of the game after New Orleans had cut the Lions lead to 19-13 early in the fourth quarter. He hit Golden Tate for a 66-yard gain to set up the go-ahead touchdown. After that, the defense sealed the deal.

So now the Lions are 8-4 and looking squarely at a 10-6 regular season record. That should be good enough for a spot in the playoffs. But these are the Lions, of course. We’ll keep our fingers crossed.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: It’s hard to argue with the Final Four college football teams that were picked Sunday. Alabama is already a two-touchdown favorite in Las Vegas to beat Washington. Ohio State is a field goal pick over Clemson, according to the oddsmakers.

Vegas also released a couple other lines on Sunday. Michigan is favored by a touchdown over Florida State in the Orange Bowl on Dec. 30. Western Michigan is a touchdown underdog to Wisconsin in the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 2.

Central Michigan and Eastern Michigan are both going to smaller bowl games, giving the state four teams getting extra exposure – and money.

WINTER MEETINGS: I’m hearing too many Detroit Tigers fans giving up on the 2017 season. They are down because General Manager Al Avila announced he is willing to trade anyone. That doesn’t mean he is waving the white flag. It means if he can move a big contract and an older player for a couple of young inexpensive players, he’ll do it.

There is nothing wrong with that. The key for the Tigers is they have three good, young starting pitchers to build around. If they keep Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera, they should be in the thick of things in the A.L. Central. Why? Chicago and Kansas City look to be rebuilding. Cleveland will be the team to beat again. I think this is the most interesting Tigers off-season in the last… well, 23 years.

Nick Edson is a retired Hall of Fame columnist and sportswriter. He worked 25 years at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, 18 as sports editor. He is a two-time president of the Associated Press Sports Editors Association and a member of the Michigan Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame.