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Assessing the Lions Dwindling Playoff Chances

The loss to Dallas yesterday was disappointing enough by itself considering it was a Lions win for all but 18 seconds of the game, but when you think about the ramifications it had on Detroit's playoff hopes it hurts even more.

Going into yesterday there was a slim chance of Detroit making the playoffs even though they were in a three-way tie for the final wild card spot.  The reason their chances were so slim is due to the fact that Detroit doesn't hold the tiebreaker over most teams tied or almost tied with them, and also because the schedule isn't favorable down the homestretch.  Even so, an upset win yesterday would have vaulted the Lions back into the playoffs if the season ended this week.

Just to see the "what if" scenario, here is what the wild card standings would have looked like had the final minutes against Dallas gone in Detroit's favor and ended in a Lions win:

  1. New York Giants (9-4)
  2. Detroit Lions (7-6)
  3. Minnesota Vikings (7-6)
  4. Washington Redskins (6-7)
  5. Arizona Cardinals (6-7)

Believe it or not, despite the thrashing Minnesota gave Detroit only a week or so ago, the Lions hold the tie-breaker over the Vikings since they split in head-to-head matchups and have a better record in the division.  Unfortunately, "what if" scenarios don't count in real life, so this is what the actual playoff picture looks like for the Lions.

  1. New York Giants (9-4)
  2. Minnesota Vikings (7-6)
  3. Washington Redskins (6-7)
  4. Arizona Cardinals (6-7)
  5. Detroit Lions (6-7)

The Giants will likely clinch that first wild card spot pretty soon, so let's just go ahead and say they're in.  After New York, Minnesota is in good shape when it comes to the final wild card spot.  They are a game better than three teams right now (possibly 4 if New Orleans wins tonight) and control their own destiny.  The rest of the schedule for the Vikings is also much easier than what the Lions face in the final weeks of the year.

For Detroit to even have a chance, the Vikings have to lose at least one of these games:

December 17 - vs. Chicago
December 23 - vs. Washington
December 30 - at Denver

We really should just be worrying about what Detroit does as another loss kills all that I'm laying out right now, but still it's something interesting to think about.  Assuming just for this scenario's sake that the Lions pull out a three-game winning streak to finish the season and end up 9-7, a Minnesota lost has to happen in one of those above games.  Moving down the checklist of what is needed for the Lions to get into the playoffs, Washington and Arizona also have to lose a game, and possibly New Orleans should they win tonight.

Since Washington and Minnesota play, one of these needs will be taken care of, but regardless, the Redskins have a very tough schedule as they still have to play at the Giants and at home to the Cowboys along with that game at Minnesota.  For the Cardinals, their schedule isn't too bad.  They head to New Orleans this Sunday before finishing the year at home against Atlanta and St. Louis, which are two beatable teams.

As you can see, a lot needs to happen for Detroit to make the playoffs.  They have to first win their three remaining games and then can start to worry about everything else that needs to fall into place.  The odds of everything working out are slim simply because Detroit has to close the year out with three straight wins, which is a tough task without the playoff implications, but at least there's a chance.  Talking playoffs in nearly the middle of December with respect to the Lions isn't exactly something I was expecting to happen.  Even if things don't work out, it is a very welcomed change.  I'll take discussing playoff scenarios over draft scenarios any day.

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After winning their first NFC North title in 30 years, the Lions have unfinished business this offseason. Stay updated with Jeremy Reisman through Pride of Detroit Direct, our newsletter offering up exclusive analysis. Sign up with NFCNORTH30 to get 30% off after your free trial.