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NFL playoff scenarios: How the Lions can clinch in Week 16

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A look at how the Detroit Lions can clinch a playoff spot and potentially even the NFC North title in Week 16.

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The Detroit Lions are on the verge of returning to the playoffs for the first time since the 2011 season. Their fate is in their own hands for a playoff spot and the NFC North title, and they could clinch both of those things as soon as Week 16. Here's how:

Playoff spot

Scenario 1
  1. Beat Chicago Bears

If the Lions beat the Bears, they're in the playoffs no matter what. This is the simplest route to the postseason, as no help is needed from other teams.

Scenario 2
  1. Lose to Bears
  2. Eagles lose another game

Yes, the Lions can clinch a playoff spot even if they don't beat the Bears. This is because the Eagles are guaranteed to finish with a worse conference record than the Lions. As long as the Eagles lose again to finish with at least six losses, the Lions will make the playoffs by winning the conference record tiebreaker even with back-to-back losses to finish the season.

By the way, the Eagles play at the Washington Redskins in Week 16 and at the New York Giants in Week 17. All the Lions need to make the playoffs is an Eagles loss in one of those games.

(And yes, the Lions could still make the playoffs despite losing out if the Dallas Cowboys lose their final two games, but that particular scenario wouldn't be in play until Week 17.)

NFC North title

  1. Beat Bears
  2. Green Bay Packers lose to Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The scenario for the Lions clinching the NFC North title depends on a Detroit win in Chicago and a Packers loss to the Bucs. The latter part of that seems highly unlikely, but stranger things have happened.

In this scenario, the Lions would be crowned NFC North champions before Week 17 because they would win the conference record tiebreaker. Even with a Lions loss to the Packers at Lambeau Field, which would give both teams an 11-5 record overall, the tiebreakers would look like this:

  1. Head-to-head (Lions 1-1, Packers 1-1)
  2. Record in the NFC North (Lions 5-1, Packers 5-1)
  3. Record in common games (Lions 9-3, Packers 9-3)
  4. Record in the NFC (Lions 9-3, Packers 8-4)

In this scenario, the Lions would be NFC North champions by winning one more game in the NFC than the Packers. This would, in a sense, make Week 17 irrelevant when it comes to the division. The Lions would still be playing for a first-round bye, but this is the only scenario where the NFC North isn't on the line in Week 17. (Even if the Lions lose next week, they will still be able to win the NFC North in Week 17 regardless of what the Packers do against the Bucs.)

And for the record, I'm aware that ESPN's playoff machine has the Packers winning the NFC North in this scenario, but it's incorrect. Check out NFL.com's playoff predictor for the correct breakdown.

Recap

It boils down to this for the Lions: a win over Chicago clinches a playoff spot. If that win is coupled with a Green Bay loss, the NFC North title belongs to the Lions. If there isn't a Green Bay loss, the two teams will meet in Week 17 for the NFC North title in a game that will likely be flexed into the Sunday night slot on NBC. And even if the Lions lose their next two games, they can still clinch a playoff spot with one more loss from the Eagles.

All of this is a long way of saying that a lot would have to go wrong for the Lions to miss the playoffs this season. Obviously nothing is set in stone yet, and a lot could happen in the final two weeks, but the Lions are in excellent shape when it comes to making the playoffs.