NFL playoff picture: Lions move up to No. 3 seed

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Lions are tied for first place in the NFC North and currently have the No. 3 seed in the playoff picture.

The Detroit Lions' record obviously didn't change during their bye week, but their standing in the NFC playoff picture did -- multiple times, actually. The Lions went into Week 9 with the No. 6 seed, but they dropped out of the playoffs after Sunday because the Carolina Panthers beat the Atlanta Falcons to improve to 5-3. On Monday, however, the Lions jumped all the way up to third in the NFC playoff picture thanks to the Chicago Bears beating the Green Bay Packers. Here's an updated look at where things stand going into Week 10:

  1. Seattle Seahawks (8-1)
  2. New Orleans Saints (6-2)
  3. Detroit Lions (5-3)
  4. Dallas Cowboys (5-4)
  5. San Francisco 49ers (6-2)
  6. Carolina Panthers (5-3)
  7. Chicago Bears (5-3)
  8. Green Bay Packers (5-3)
  9. Arizona Cardinals (4-4)

With the Lions, Bears and Packers all tied atop the NFC North with a 5-3 record, how did Detroit end up with the No. 3 seed? You actually have to go down to the fourth tiebreaker to determine the top team in the NFC North. The head-to-head records, divisional records and records in common games are all the same, but the Lions hold the advantage in the conference record department: Lions 4-2, Packers 3-2, Bears 3-3. As a result, for the time being, the Lions are in line to host a playoff game.

Had the Bears not won on Monday night, the Lions would be in the seventh slot because the Panthers own the tiebreaker with Detroit by having a 5-2 record in the NFC. Thanks to four straight wins after a 1-3 start, the Panthers have become a big threat to the Lions' chances of making the playoffs as a wild-card team. However, it's important to remember three things: 1) Carolina has had the NFL's easiest schedule so far; 2) Detroit has the easiest remaining schedule in the NFL; and 3) Carolina still has to play San Francisco on the road, New England at home and New Orleans twice. In terms of the easier path to the postseason, the Lions have the advantage in a big way, but now they also have to worry about the Bears when it comes to the wild card.

This goes without saying, but the upcoming three-game stretch will be really important for the Lions and their hopes of returning to the playoffs. Before taking on the Packers on Thanksgiving, the Lions have games against the potentially Jay Cutler-less Bears, the currently 2-6 Pittsburgh Steelers and the currently winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers. At worst, the Lions need to go 2-1 during that stretch, and on paper, you could make the case that the Lions should really go 3-0. Doing just that would put them in a great position as it relates to the playoffs and the NFC North title race.

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