Around this time last year, the hot topic surrounding the Lions was what draft pick they would have and what scenarios existed that would give them the No. 1 overall pick for the second consecutive year. This year, following three straight wins by the Lions, the hot topic is how low they can go in the 2011 NFL Draft order. Just a few weeks ago it looked like Detroit was again going to be in the running for a top two or three pick, but now the Lions are on the verge of falling out of the top ten.
If the season ended today, the Lions would control the No. 9 pick of the 2011 NFL Draft. If the season ended tomorrow and the Minnesota Vikings lose to the Philadelphia Eagles on Tuesday night, the Lions would move down a spot to No. 10.
It's important to remember that there is still a week of football left to be played, and this year more than ever a wide range exists for where the Lions could ultimately end up picking in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft. Right now there are seven teams with five wins, three with four and three with six. The Lions are one of the seven teams with five wins, putting them into a tie that is broken by strength of schedule. The harder the schedule, the lower the draft pick because the thinking is that an easier schedule should result in more wins, not less. Going into Monday, the Lions' strength of schedule was .548, which is the winning percentage of Detroit's opponents. Of all the five-win teams, that is the second-toughest schedule. Only Cleveland has a tougher schedule than the Lions out of all the five-win teams.
It would take way too long to go through all of the scenarios out there that would determine where the Lions' first-round pick will be in the 2011 NFL Draft, so let's just nail down a range of when they might be going on the clock based on if they win or lose against Minnesota this upcoming Sunday.
If the Lions beat the Vikings:
A win would give the Lions a 6-10 record. Right now the Seahawks, Titans and Redskins all have six wins. If all three of those teams were to win on Sunday, the lowest the Lions could end up picking is 11th. If all three of those teams lose on Sunday, it's possible that the Lions could pick as low as 14th.
How high the Lions could pick with a 6-10 record depends on what happens with the other six five-win teams. Assuming the Vikings lose to Philly, a Lions victory this week would keep Minnesota at only five wins. Also, the Cardinals and 49ers play each other this week, so one of those teams will end up with six wins and one will stay at five barring a tie. This means that if as many five-win teams as possible get to a sixth win, the highest the Lions could pick is seventh, although because of the tiebreaker it's highly unlikely their pick would be that high.
As it stands right now, a Lions victory against the Vikings would give them a first-round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft that ranges anywhere from No. 7 to No. 14. Based on the games on the Week 17 schedule, I would predict the Lions to have the No. 13 pick if they beat Minnesota, Seattle beats St. Louis and both the Titans and Redskins lose. If all three of the six-win teams (Seattle, Tennessee and Washington) go down on Sunday, a Lions victory could mean that they have the No. 14 pick (assuming the Browns don't upset the Steelers, as Cleveland is the only five- or six-win team with a tougher schedule than Detroit).
If the Lions lose to the Vikings:
A loss to Minnesota would give the Lions a final record of 5-11. Strictly based on record, this would give the Lions a range of picking anywhere from second to ninth in the 2011 NFL Draft. Factoring tiebreakers into the equation would make picking as high as second extremely unlikely because the Lions' strength of schedule is pretty tough. As a result, the highest I see the Lions potentially picking is No. 4 overall. Even if all of the four-win teams get a victory this week and as many of the five-win teams win as well, the tiebreakers would likely keep the Lions from picking any higher than fourth overall.
As far as how low the Lions could pick with a loss to Minnesota, it is ninth. If as many five-win teams lose as possible and all of the four-win teams lose as well, the Lions would pick ninth overall based on the current strength of schedule. Although the numbers could change a bit, the only team with a strength of schedule close to Detroit's is Minnesota, and the only way they can finish with the same record is if a tie happens. Never say never, of course, but these scenarios are based on no ties occurring in the final week, as that would just complicate things more than they already are.
Basically, if the Lions win on Sunday against Minnesota, they will probably not have a top ten pick and could be as low as No. 14. If the Lions lose, then they will be picking in the top ten for sure, and depending on what happens with the four-win teams and other five-win teams, they could end up with a pick as high as No. 4. In all likelihood, they would be closer to No. 9 than No. 4 if they lose, though.