December 10, 2012 at 10:00 pm

Josh Katzenstein: NFL Monday Countdown

Lions as spoilers won't go quietly over final three games

Don't be surprised if the Lions win their last three games.

This is by no means a guarantee, but rather an advisory for anyone who thinks this team will pack it in and accept a high draft position.

Several Lions players are auditioning for jobs next year, in Detroit or otherwise, and want to prove they're capable of helping to turn around this five-game losing streak.

The Lions (4-9) travel to Arizona Sunday to play a Cardinals team (4-9) that's on an even worse streak, losers of nine straight.

The two teams have matching records, but they really aren't in the same class. The Cardinals lost 58-0 in Seattle Sunday against a Seahawks team the Lions beat in Week 9.

Five of the Cardinals' losses have been by 14 or more points. Besides a 10-point loss to the Vikings, the Lions haven't lost a game by more than one possession all season.

Both teams have stumbled to this point, but the Lions should play well enough through three quarters in Phoenix that their finishing problem won't cost them.

The Lions then host two likely playoff teams to close the season and could have a chance to play spoiler.

If the Falcons (11-2), the Week 16 opponent, lose two more games this season, the Packers (9-4) or 49ers (9-3-1) could be in position to clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. In fact, after their 30-20 loss to the Panthers Sunday, the Falcons need to win two of their last three (against the Giants and Bucs) just to secure a bye after starting 11-1.

Last season the Falcons beat the Lions, 23-16, in Ford Field, so even though the Lions can't make the playoffs, they'll look to exact some revenge against a playoff team.

The Lions end the season against the Bears, a game that initially looked like it'd have playoff implications for both teams.

The Bears suddenly have lost four of five, but they're still in control of their playoff destiny. And don't think for a second the Lions wouldn't like to knock them out if they have the chance in Week 17.

After how the Lions lost the past four games, there isn't much reason to think they could knock off two teams with winning records. But if they win at Arizona, maybe the taste of victory will remind them how to win before they face two teams that, frankly, aren't as good as their records might reflect.

A 7-9 finish wouldn't salvage the season by any means, but it may give the Lions' returning players a big confidence boost heading into next season.

Around the NFC North

For the first time this season, the Packers (9-4) have a lead in the division.

The Bears (8-5) lost in Minnesota, 21-14, to fall a game behind Green Bay after either leading or tying atop the division all year.

And as quickly as the Packers erased that lead, they suddenly have a chance to clinch the division when they travel to Chicago this Sunday. A Packers win would give them a two-game lead and a sweep over the Bears that would seal the NFL North title with two games remaining.

After their upset over the Bears, the Vikings (7-6) can still technically win the division, but they'd need a lot of help.

Wild-card race heats up

Seven teams are within two games of the wild-card lead in the NFC. The Seahawks (8-5) and Bears (8-5) currently control their own destiny, but other teams are right behind if they slip.

After four straight wins, the Redskins (7-6) are currently in the No. 7 spot. If Robert Griffin III recovers quickly from his knee sprain, they could make a late push.

At 7-6, the Cowboys and Vikings are right behind the Redskins.

The Rams (6-6-1) and Bucs (6-7) have a tougher task if they hope to make the playoffs, but will be within striking distance if they can win their final three games.

Cowboys win after tragedy

Less than 48 hours after Cowboys linebacker Jerry Brown died in a car accident, the team rallied to win in his honor, beating the Bengals, 20-19, on a field goal as time expired.

Cowboys defensive lineman Josh Brent, Brown's college teammate at Illinois, was still in jail during the game and has been charged with intoxication manslaughter in Brown's death.

"I don't remember crying this much other than maybe the day I was born," Cowboys defensive lineman Marcus Spears said, according to the Associated Press. "With Josh's situation and Jerry being gone, you felt it."

Cowboys coach Jason Garrett reportedly called Brown's mother after the game and said he was giving the game ball to her son.

"They were really strong for Jerry Brown," Garrett said of his team, according to USA Today. "I think everybody was really, really heartbroken and will continue to be heartbroken. This young man had everything ahead of him."

jkatzenstein@detnews.com

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Stephen Tulloch and DeAndre Levy gang up on Packers running back Alex Green in the third quarter Sunday night. / Daniel Mears / Detroit News
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