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Thanksgiving Day Classic: Everything at stake for Lions-Vikings

This is no normal Lions Thanksgiving Day game.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

It’ll probably surprise a lot of people outside of Detroit Lions fandom to learn that the Lions have actually won on Thanksgiving three years in a row. In 2013 and 2014, those wins proved crucial to their playoff chances, even if they only made it to the postseason in 2014.

This year, however, the game likely means more than any of those seasons. The Lions and Minnesota Vikings are both tied at 6-4 atop the NFC North division and with just five games remaining for each team after Thursday, this game has huge implications for both teams.

Any time two division rivals play against each other, there’s a full-game swing on the line. Not only does one team win, but the other team loses. That’s a quick way to make up ground in a divisional race. However, this game has even more divisional implications. A Lions win would permanently win them the tiebreaker over the Vikings, meaning it would give the Lions an extra game up, extending their lead over Minnesota and the entire NFC North to two games.

For the Vikings, too, this game could be more than a full-game swing. While Minnesota couldn’t lock up the tiebreaker, a win would push their division record to 2-2 while the Lions would fall to 1-3. Because the two teams would be tied in head-to-head, division record would be the next tiebreaker. So Minnesota would have a leg up on the tiebreaker over Detroit and could seal it with wins over the Packers and Bears later in the season.

Just how big of a difference does this have on the Lions’ playoff chances? According to FiveThirtyEight.com, the Lions currently have a 58 percent chance to make the playoffs and 46 percent chance to win the division. If Detroit wins, their playoff chances shoot to 79 percent. If they lose, that number falls all the way down to 32 percent: A 47 percent difference. For the Vikings, those numbers are 89 percent with a win and 46 with a loss.

ESPN’s numbers look even more desperate for the Lions:

Detroit hasn’t won a division title in 23 years, a drought only surpassed by the Cleveland Browns, who haven’t had a division title since 1989. If the Lions were to win on Thursday, they would not only take a huge step toward the 2016 postseason, but they would come that much closer to a monumental accomplishment for a perpetually downtrodden franchise. A division title may not seem like much, but the Lions have never had a home playoff game in Ford Field and last hosted a postseason game in 1993. This would be a big moment for the Lions and their fans, and they can get one step closer to making it a reality on Thursday.

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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.