Going into Week 12, the Detroit Lions are in control of the No. 2 seed in the NFC despite losing to the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. That's the good news. The bad news is that the Lions now have the same record as the Green Bay Packers, and just generally speaking, there's a lot less margin for error going forward. With that in mind, here's a look at which teams you should root for this week:
The Packers are playing like one of the NFL's best teams, so a Vikings upset doesn't exactly seem likely. Even so, that would obviously be the desired outcome for the Lions, so here's to something surprising happening in Minnesota on Sunday.
Root for: Vikings
Not only did the Lions miss out on an opportunity last week to take over the No. 1 seed in the NFC, but they also missed out on a chance to extend their lead over the Eagles. A slight edge in conference record is the only reason the Lions are still ahead of them in the pecking order, so here's to another upset.
Root for: Titans
This is a really intriguing game. On the one hand, a Seattle win could bring the Cardinals and the No. 1 seed within reach again for the Lions. Then again, with Arizona already controlling the head-to-head tiebreaker, it would take a lot of work for the Lions to even have a shot at the top seed down the stretch. Plus, an Arizona win would make Seattle's road to the playoffs even more difficult, and that could be important for the Lions if they have to rely on a wild-card spot.
Ultimately, who to root for in this game comes down to whether you're thinking about seeding or simply making the playoffs. I personally don't think it's realistic for the Lions to catch the Cardinals at this point, especially if they lose to New England on Sunday, so I'm more concerned about them simply getting into the playoffs. As a result, I would rather see Seattle lose.
Root for: Cardinals
Speaking of NFC West teams trying to make the playoffs via the wild card, the 49ers have a very winnable game at home on Sunday. A loss to the Redskins would do a lot of damage to their playoff hopes, so once again, here's to an upset.
Root for: Redskins
With a Dallas win and a Philadelphia loss, the Cowboys would return to first place in the NFC East, and they could potentially even take over the No. 2 seed if the Lions and Packers both lose on Sunday. Even though they're down at No. 6 in the playoff picture right now, the Cowboys are really a threat to the Lions both from a seeding and wild-card perspective, so a Giants win would be quite nice for Detroit.
Root for: Giants
(Note: Since the NFC South's first-place team is currently 4-6, there's really no point in explaining rooting interests for that division's games. At this point, unless otherwise noted, I'm simply rooting for the first-place team in that division to finish with as few wins as possible just for the sake of hilarity.)
If the Lions beat the New England Patriots on Sunday and everything else goes according to plan, the NFC playoff picture will look something like this going into Week 13:
- Arizona Cardinals (10-1) *NFC West champion*
- Detroit Lions (8-3) *NFC North champion*
- Philadelphia Eagles (7-4) *NFC East champion*
- Atlanta Falcons (4-7) *NFC South champion*
- Green Bay Packers (7-4) *Wild card*
- Dallas Cowboys (7-4) *Wild card*
- San Francisco 49ers (6-5)
- Seattle Seahawks (6-5)
Bye: Cardinals, Lions | Wild-card round: Eagles vs. Cowboys, Falcons vs. Packers
In this scenario, the Lions would gain back their one-game lead over the Packers in the NFC North, and they would also move a full game ahead of the two NFC East teams. While they would remain multiple games back of the Cardinals, they would be two games ahead of the two NFC West teams contending for a wild-card spot. Given that the Packers likely aren't going away in the NFC North race, staying clear of the 49ers and Seahawks could end up being quite important for the Lions if they want to make the playoffs.