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2016 NFC playoff race: Remaining strength of schedule concern for Lions

A look at the strength of schedule for all of the NFC contenders

Wild Card Playoffs - Detroit Lions v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The Detroit Lions find themselves closer to a division title after Week 12, but they also find themselves shockingly close to the highly-valued two-seed, which comes with a nice first-round bye. With the Seattle Seahawks’ loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the NFC has suddenly become a wide-open race for the top seed alongside the 10-1 Dallas Cowboys. Here’s a reminder where the NFC playoff race stands prior to Monday night’s game between the Packers and Eagles:

Seed Team Record after this week Notes
1 Dallas 10-1 Projected NFC East Champion
2 Seattle 7-3-1 Projected NFC West Champion
3 Detroit 7-4 Projected NFC North Champion
4 Atlanta 7-4 Projected NFC South Champion
5 New York 8-3 Projected Wild Card
6 Washington 6-4-1 Projected Wild Card
7 Tampa Bay 6-5
8 Minnesota 6-5
9 Philadelphia 5-5* Plays Green Bay on Monday
10 New Orleans 5-6 Beat Los Angeles, 49-21

You can see how tight the entire race is, and this doesn’t even include the 4-6-1 Cardinals and 4-6 Packers, who are just outside of the picture at the moment.

With so many teams clustered tightly into this playoff picture, one big factor remaining in the difference between the postseason and draft preparation is strength of schedule. We’ve talked a lot about the daunting task ahead of the Lions, with three tricky games on the road, but how does it compare to the rest of the contenders?

We took the schedules of the top 12 teams in the NFC and listed them by opponent’s winning percentage. Here’s what it looks like:

Strength of schedule Opponents
Seahawks 0.315 vs. CAR, @GB, vs. LA, vs. ARI, at SF
Falcons 0.400 vs. KC, @LA, vs. SF, @ CAR, vs. NO
Washington 0.426 .@ARI, @PHI, vs. CAR, @CHI, vs. NYG
Vikings 0.426 vs. DAL, @JAX, vs. IND, @GB, vs. CHI
Packers 0.508 .@PHI, vs. HOU, vs. SEA, @CHI, vs. MIN, @DET
Buccaneers 0.527 .@SD, vs. NO, @DAL, @NO, vs. CAR
Cardinals 0.527 vs. WAS, @MIA, vs. NO, @SEA, @LA
Lions 0.537 .@NO, vs. CHI, @NYG, @DAL, vs. GB
Saints 0.545 vs. DET, @TB, @ARI, vs. TB, @ATL
Eagles 0.569 vs. GB, @CIN, vs. WAS, @BAL, vs. NYG, vs. DAL
Cowboys 0.593 .@MIN, @NYG, vs. TB, vs. DET, @PHI
Giants 0.630 .@PIT, vs. DAL, vs. DET, @PHI, @WAS

There are a few important takeaways here for Lions fans. While the Lions schedule does rank among the toughest among contenders, it is not that much different from the majority of teams. All but four teams are facing opponents with an overall winning record down the final stretch, so most teams won’t have an easy road.

However, if you’re banking on the Lions contending for a first-round bye, you may be setting yourself up for disappointment. The Seahawks—who currently hold the two-seed—have the easiest schedule in the conference and it’s not even close. No team remaining on their schedule has more than four wins or fewer than six losses. The Falcons are also a real contender for the two-seed and they just so happen to have the second-easiest schedule remaining. Detroit is going to need some luck if they want a bye.

Additionally, the Vikings and Packers both have significantly easier schedules than the Lions. This NFC North race is far from finished, because Detroit will have the toughest road in December. The Vikings have the second-easiest schedule left, including three games at home. The Packers, too, have three home games remaining, but all three are against teams with winning records.

Finally, look at the NFC East. The three toughest remaining schedules all belong to teams in the conference, meaning they are about to beat up on each other down the stretch. The Giants, Eagles or Cowboys could go into free fall in December and potentially open up a chance at a higher seed or Wild Card spot.

There’s still a lot of games left to be played, but it’s clear some teams have a much cleaner road to the postseason than others.

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