Playoffs? For the Detroit Lions, a win will do it

By Barry Wilner

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Dec. 22 2011 10:59 p.m. MST

In this Nov. 7, 2010, file photo, Detroit Lions offensive tackle Jeff Backus runs out to the field before the start an NFL football game against the New York Jets at Ford Field in Detroit. Backus joined the team in 2001 and has endured the hard times of losing seasons. Detroit can clinch a playoff berth with a victory over San Diego on Saturday.

Carlos Osorio, File, Associated Press

The last time the Detroit Lions were this close to the playoffs, Barry Sanders was in their backfield.

Sanders now is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, a place few if any of the recent Lions will end up. His former team has been rebuilt by GM Martin Mayhew and coach Jim Schwartz, and a win over San Diego on Saturday will secure Detroit an NFC wild-card slot.

Since making the postseason in 1999 at 8-8 — one year after Sanders retired — the Lions have had one winning year (9-7 in 2000) and six last-place finishes.

"You think of the last 10 years, what we've gone through — what this organization and what the city and the fans have gone through — to be able to get to the playoffs, to have a successful season, it's huge," tackle Jeff Backus said. "People have been waiting a long time. I've been waiting my whole career to do it."

Backus joined Detroit in 2001, and seven years later was on the only 0-16 team in NFL history. These Lions, led by star receiver Calvin Johnson and headline-making defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, started the season 5-0, slumped, but by beating San Diego they will be 10-5.

And in the playoffs.

"I'm proud to be a Detroit Lion," Backus said. "I take a lot of pride in what we do here and the emphasis we've had on trying to get it turned around, and things are starting to pay off. We've just got to finish it out the right way."

So does San Diego: The Chargers (7-7) still have playoff hopes, too, after winning three in a row.

"Yeah, I think it's a playoff game for both teams from an approach standpoint," Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said. "I would like to think we approach all of them that way, but certainly being two weeks left in the season and ... they clinch it (if) they win. If we win, we stay alive, so it's obviously a big-time game for both teams."

Atlanta also can grab a wild card if beats New Orleans on Monday night.

The holiday weekend began with Reggie Wayne catching a 1-yard touchdown pass from Dan Orlovsky with 19 seconds left to lead the Indianapolis Colts past the Houston Texans 19-16 Thursday night. The Colts (2-13) have won two straight, both against division foes, behind Orlovsky, the former Texans quarterback who lost his first nine NFL starts. The Texans (10-5) fell to 0-10 in Indianapolis. Arian Foster had 23 carries for 158 yards and scored the Texans' only touchdown on the third play of the game.

Other games Saturday with playoff implications — well, just about every game has such meaning this weekend — have Philadelphia at Dallas, St. Louis at Pittsburgh, Cleveland at Baltimore, Denver at Buffalo, Oakland at Kansas City, the New York Giants at the Jets, Arizona at Cincinnati, Jacksonville at Tennessee, and San Francisco at Seattle.

Also Saturday, it's Miami at New England, Minnesota at Washington and Tampa Bay at Carolina.

Green Bay hosts Chicago on Christmas night.

Atlanta (9-5) at New Orleans (11-3), Monday night

It's simple for the Saints: a win and they own the NFC South title. New Orleans has won six straight since an inexplicable defeat at St. Louis, scoring 197 points in that streak. The Saints also have won five of six against Atlanta, including 26-23 in overtime last month when Falcons coach Mike Smith's overtime gamble on fourth-and-1 failed.

While Atlanta needs lots help to surpass the Saints even with a victory in prime time, it gets an NFC wild card with a win.

Chicago (7-7) at Green Bay (13-1), Sunday night

With the pursuit of perfection gone pfft, the Packers need to get healthy for the playoffs. They have lost leading receiver Greg Jennings until January, and injuries have hit both lines.

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