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Detroit Lions can make 2017 a symbolic turning point for the franchise

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Whether symbolically or not, the Lions have a chance to start a new era in franchise history.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

2016 sucked. When most people say “2016 sucked,” they’re talking about a slew of celebrity deaths, but it goes well beyond that. Don’t get me wrong, the world is a worse place without the likes of David Bowie, Prince and Muhammad Ali, but in the grand scheme of things, there are more important things that have happened this year. Many parts of the world have been overwhelmed with fear and terror. Political races have become defined by misinformation, hatred and straight out lies. The people of this world, who have more in common than they’ll ever realize, have never been more at odds with each other.

On top of that, I personally suffered the toughest year of my life. I made the agonizing decision to leave a career I had built for myself in the past years. I continue to grow further away, both physically and emotionally, from some of the people I love the most in my life. And worst of all, I lost my father—my inspiration, my reliable helping hand and my origin for Detroit Lions fandom—to cancer after a 14 year battle. To give you a sense of how integral my father was not only to my life, but to my love of the Lions, after the chapel service was over, the rabbi made sure to give us a halftime update on Lions-Saints in his honor.

But I, like much of the people in this world, hope the simple flipping of a calendar page will result in changed fortunes. We all hope that once 2016 is officially history, somehow the world will magically turn into a happier, safer and overall more pleasant place. It’s illogical and idiotic, but we all take part in the annual ritual without a second thought.

This year, New Year’s Day brings with it another opportunity to put the past in the past. The Detroit Lions will kick off the new year with a chance to win the division. To finally win a game that everyone is assuming they’ll lose. To put the past 23 titleless years in the past. To bury “Same Old Lions” and kick off a new era free of the ugly stigma surrounding this franchise.

Of course, this line of thinking is just as illogical as the previous one. One win at the start of a new year won’t be enough to erase years of incompetence and losing. If the Lions defeat the Packers on Sunday night and clinch the division, only to lose in the opening round of the playoffs, it’ll hardly make a dent in their national perception. And even if the Lions make a deep playoff run, it doesn’t mean it’s the dawn of “Detroit Lions: Perennial Super Bowl Contender.”

But New Years isn’t about a pivotal changing point in life. We constantly use it as a starting line for lifestyle changes, yet we rarely ever cross the finish line. That doesn’t make it all pointless, though, because New Years is really about hope. We create this demarcation in our lines in the hopes that we can abruptly make a positive change in our lives. Without that point of reference, the things we are unhappy with in our lives would be perceived as a downward spiral, rather than a temporary crash. New Years gives us the perception of an end to suffering and the hope of something else on the horizon.

And that’s what this New Year’s Day provides the Lions with: hope. To kick off 2017 with their first NFC North title, the Lions would create massive amounts of hope for the fanbase. Sure, there’s a good chance this win would turn out to be more symbolic than anything else, but New Year’s Day in and of itself is a symbol. A symbol of rebirth. A symbol of turning the page. A symbol of starting with a clean slate.

But the Lions cannot simply rely on the turning of the calendar page to change their fortunes. They need to go out and win themselves. Go out and prove that the doubters of 2016 are not welcome in 2017. Prove that the NFC playoffs can survive without the Green Bay Packers this year.

The Lions won’t be alone, though. They’ll likely have a record number of Detroit Lions fans in the building, and each and every one of those fans will have something to prove, too. Prove to the world—and each other—that the cynical nature of Lions fandom was from a former era. That at the quickest sign of adversity, Lions fans don’t turn on their team and boo, but dig their heels in and get louder and prouder.

Life has been hard for the Lions and their fans, but Sunday will provide the opportunity to start anew. Beat the Packers. Win the North. Turn the page.