The Detroit Lions, losers of four of their last five, have next-to-no margin for error anymore, making Sundays game against Seattle at Ford Field that much more important.
Here are five storylines to follow:
1. We all know that San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh and Detroit coach Jim Schwartz arent the best of buds, but Harbaugh might have done Schwartz and the Lions a favor.
Harbaugh complained publicly and to the NFL office about the physical play of Seattle cornerbacks Brandon Browner (6-foot-4, 221 pounds) and Richard Sherman (6-3, 195) after facing the Seahawks last week.
This is Seattles first game since those comments. It will be interesting to see if the league agrees and whether officials will be watching Browner and Sherman more closely.
Sherman has drawn additional attention to himself this week by changing his Twitter name to Optimus Prime, which was the enemy of Megatron in the Transformers series.
Megatron, of course, is the nickname of Lions receiver Calvin Johnson.
Johnson said hell use the challenge as motivation, no doubt about it.
As for the Seahawks secondary, which also includes 6-3, 232-pound safety Kam Chancellor, Schwartz said, Thats like a junior-college basketball team. Theyve got some length and some size. They play physical. Its their length thats important to the way that they play. Its hard to throw the ball over top of them because theyre, No. 1, tall and, No. 2, long arms to go along with it.
Theres no question this is as physical as any secondary around. Look for more illegal-contact and pass-interference penalties to be called this week, thanks in part to Harbaugh.
2. Lions cornerback Chris Houston has done the math.
When asked about the importance of this game, Houston said, This is big because if we lose, we go down. If we win, weve still got a chance.
When pressed on whether he thinks its a must-win to keep any realistic playoff hopes alive, Houston answered, It can be, you never know.
Before the season, the over-under on Lions victories was set at either nine or 9 . But with the slow start, one sportsbook, Ladbrokes.com, adjusted that total down to 6 this week.
Over the last three-plus decades, teams that started 2-4, as the Lions have done, came back to make the playoffs 8.7 percent of the time.
Thats 18 of 208 teams since 1978, according to STATS LLC.
Shockingly, three of those 18 turnarounds were by the Lions, more than any other team. They started 2-4 in 1983, 1994 and 1995, and made the playoffs each time.
Its taken at least 10 victories to earn a wild-card berth in the NFC the last three seasons. But with the balance this year, some analysts are starting to believe a 9-7 record might be enough.
The Lions still need to go 7-3 over their last 10 games just to reach nine victories. Thats going to be difficult, maybe near-impossible if they dont beat the Seahawks at home.
3. If someone had told you that after six games, the Lions would rank eighth in total defense (319.3 yards per game), sixth in pass defense (210.5 yards) and No. 1 in red-zone defense (25 percent, three touchdowns allowed in 12 possessions), you probably would have thought this team would be cruising back to the playoffs.
Maybe even contend for the division title and a Super Bowl.
The Lions defense, supposedly the teams glaring weakness, has exceeded expectations so far. Its been a little bend-but-dont break at times, but theyve been respectable.
Most observers would have thought the depleted secondary would be getting totally shredded, which its not. The defensive line is starting to come on and live up to expectations the last couple weeks. And then theres the much-overlooked linebacker trio, the most consistent part of the team outside of kicker Jason Hanson.
Heres something to ponder, though: The offense is too talented not to get its act together at some point this season, but will the defense still be able to hold its own by the time that finally happens?
4. The weekly slow starts have gotten a little ridiculous coming off Mondays scoreless first three quarters at Chicago.
The Lions have averaged 3.5 points in the first quarter, 2.7 points in the second quarter, 2.2 points in the third quarter and 13.3 points in the fourth quarter.
Weve made it hard on ourselves, for sure, said quarterback Matthew Stafford, who incredibly still hasnt thrown a touchdown pass to Johnson. We havent had a lead a whole lot. Weve just got to go out and fight for it. Weve got to understand that its not going to come to us. Weve got to go out and earn them.
I know the one thing Im not going to do is freak out or panic or anything like that. Im just going to keep working hard. Thats what you have to do. Thats what you have to believe in.
5. The season-ending injury suffered by slot receiver Nate Burleson opens the door for second-year player Titus Young and rookie Ryan Broyles.
Tight end Tony Scheffler also could get more opportunities in the slot.
Young had somewhat of a breakout game against Chicago, catching six passes for 81 yards. Broyles, meanwhile, caught the first three passes of his career, including a touchdown.
Young has been hampered by a sore knee much of the season. Broyles is coming off major knee surgery last November.
Anytime someone goes down, someone has to step up, Young said. I need to take advantage of every single opportunity Im given, especially when guys are focusing attention on Calvin.
Young has been a bit of an enigma since being drafted last year, but this is his big chance. Its time to put up or shut up, as they say.