Other than identical 9-6 records and so much to gain with a victory in the regular-season finale Christmas night, the Detroit Lions and Miami Dolphins have little in common.

The Lions rebounded from a poor start and have won four straight. A win against Miami means the Lions go to the playoffs for the third time in four years, possibly with their third NFC Central Division title in four seasons.Adding to Detroit's momentum, running back Barry Sanders has a chance of becoming only the third player to gain 2,000 yards in one season.

"We are hitting on all cylinders right now," Detroit's 36-year-old quarterback Dave Krieg said.

Lions coach Wayne Fontes said, "We don't want to play the Grinch, but let's hope we can delay Miami's Christmas present."

The Dolphins have gone in the opposite direction. After starting 7-2, they have lost four of six, but have still clinched at least an AFC wild-card berth.

Miami was upset last week at Indianapolis and failed to clinch the AFC East title and an inside track to a first-week playoff bye.

"It's like putting a puzzle together the whole year," Dolphins linebacker Bryan Cox said. "Pretty soon we get that last piece in hand and the telephone rings and we don't have the opportunity to put it on the board."

On the plane trip home from Indianapolis after a painful 10-6 loss, Cox saw something he longed to see all season among his teammates: Despair, anger, frustration.

"At this level, people can be very forgetful about a loss," said Cox, known for his emotional outbursts on the field. "In that locker room and on that plane ride home, the feeling was that guys were really hurt by that loss. It was good to see that people were caring."

Miami could still win the AFC East with a victory against the Lions. A loss by New England on Saturday to Chicago also would have been enough to give the Dolphins the division title.

Detroit's situation is even more complicated. It entered the weekend in a three-way first-place tie with Minnesota and Chicago in the NFC Central and not guaranteed a playoff spot without a win - Chicago's loss changed that. A Detroit victory and a Minnesota loss Monday night to San Francisco gives the Lions the division title for the second consecutive year.

After a 2-4 start in which Fontes' security was questioned, Detroit believes it now has showed up its critics.

"We were struck in the middle of the season with a lot of defensive injuries," Fontes said. "It seems when we get injuries, no one seems to talk about them. When other teams get injuries, it's the first thing the media brings up."

Sanders said, "We've been playing well all season, but we felt we didn't get the respect we deserved."

Sanders is only 169 yards from joining Eric Dickerson and O.J. Simpson as the only players to gain more than 2,000 yards in a season. Sanders has said neither the Lions nor he will alter the game plan so he can make football history.

"I think it's hard for me to go in and compete against the numbers," said Sanders, adding he'll be fine sitting out the fourth quarter if the Lions have a big lead. "I wouldn't sacrifice going to the playoffs for a couple of yards. I'm young. I'll get my share of yards."

Fontes hopes the Dolphins focus on Sanders so Krieg can pick apart Miami's maligned secondary.

Krieg, who replaced injured Scott Mitchell in midseason, has thrown 13 touchdown passes with only one interception.

Another Dolphins problem could be Lions kick returner Mel Gray. Miami has given up two special team touchdowns in two games and last week Gray had a 98-yard kickoff return for a score.

"Mel Gray can win games for you," Fontes said. "He can get a tempo going."