What happened in Week 16 in the NFL basically went exactly according to the rooting guide plan. The Detroit Lions won to clinch a playoff spot and the Atlanta Falcons lost to move down to the sixth seed. And the teams that needed to lose for the Lions to clinch a playoff spot without a win even lost. Yes, the Lions would have clinched a playoff spot without beating the San Diego Chargers, but a victory was obviously a much better way to end the playoff drought.
For Week 17, there isn't much rooting to be done, mainly because there isn't a whole lot that is undecided in the NFC. The only thing up for grabs is seeding, and the range for the Lions is very limited. They will be either the fifth or sixth seed depending on what happens on Sunday, and depending on your personal views, what seed they get may not matter. Even so, for the sake of discussion, after the jump is a look at what rooting you may want to be doing on Sunday depending on what happens in the Lions' game against the Green Bay Packers.
Let's break this down with two scenarios based on what happens in the Lions/Packers game.
Scenario No. 1: Lions beat Packers
If the Lions are victorious on Sunday, they will clinch the No. 5 seed in the NFC. If that happens, they will face the winner of Sunday night's game between the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys in the first round of the playoffs. The only rooting that would need to be done on Sunday in this scenario depends on which team you would want the Lions to face. Personally, I would rather the Lions play the Cowboys indoors than the Giants outside at MetLife Stadium, but the important thing is that the Lions would have the fifth seed and avoid the San Francisco 49ers and New Orleans Saints in the wild-card round.
Scenario No. 2: Packers beat Lions
Should the Lions lose, they will face the possibility of sliding to the No. 6 seed and being matched up with the 49ers or Saints. Now, I wouldn't necessarily mind a matchup with San Francisco given what happened earlier in the season, but I certainly don't want the Lions to have to go to New Orleans to take on one of the hottest teams in the league. That is a recipe for an early playoff exit in my mind, which is why some rooting will have to be done if the Lions can't end their losing streak at Lambeau Field on Sunday.
Buccaneers at Falcons (4:15 p.m., FOX)
Because this is a late-afternoon game, we will know before it is played if it is relevant to the Lions or not. If Detroit loses, the Falcons will have a shot at clinching the No. 5 seed with a win against the Buccaneers. As a result, the explanation for which team to root for doesn't require a lengthy explanation. If you want the Lions to have the No. 5 seed and they don't take care of business against Green Bay, a Falcons loss is necessary or Detroit will move down to the No. 6 seed in the NFC playoffs.
Root for: Buccaneers or tie game if Lions lose (if Lions win, this game is irrelevant)
The reason I'm listing these two games together is because what happens will determine the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds. If the 49ers win, they will have the second seed in the NFC. This would keep the Saints at No. 3 and match them up against the No. 6 seed, which would be the Lions if they lose to Green Bay and the Falcons win. I think we're all pretty much in agreement that we would rather see the Lions play San Francisco than New Orleans in the wild-card round, so once again there isn't much to explain. For the Saints to move up to No. 2 in the NFC they need to beat Carolina and San Francisco has to lose or tie against St. Louis. The latter seems unlikely, but who would've ever thought that one of the Rams' two wins this season would come against the Saints? Anything is possible in the NFL.
Root for: Saints win and 49ers loss or tie (if Lions win, these games don't matter since they will play the NFC East champion)
Of course, the obvious caveat is that you want to be careful what you wish for. With the Lions safely in the playoffs, the matchup isn't something I'm going to lose sleep over, and given how crazy the NFL playoffs can be, who knows what will actually end up being the best team to face for the Lions when all is said and done. For me, the very fact that we're talking about a Lions playoff opponent is exciting enough.
On the flip side, it is still an interesting topic to discuss. While the matchups won't truly mean anything until the first round of the playoffs happens and we reflect on how foolish or accurate our hopes were, in the meantime it's an interesting discussion to have.
One thing all Lions fans can obviously agree on as far as rooting goes is for Detroit to go into Lambeau Field and pick up its first win there in 20 years. Whatever else happens, happens. The matchups will work themselves out, and in the playoffs the equation is simple regardless of the opponent: win or go home.
No matter what ends up happening in Week 17, I'm just glad that we're not in a position where we are rooting for draft positioning or rooting for a crazy scenario to happen to even give the Lions a shot at making the playoffs. It's a nice feeling to know they are already playoff bound regardless of what happens on Sunday.