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NFC playoff picture: Week 15 rooting guide

Lions fans will know whether to be very happy or very worried early on Sunday: all four NFC North teams play in the 1 p.m. block.

Philadelphia Eagles v Detroit Lions Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

Here are the NFC playoff standings heading into Week 15:

Position Team Record Week 15 Opponent Notes
Position Team Record Week 15 Opponent Notes
1 Dallas 11-2 vs. Tampa Bay (Sunday Night) NFC East Champ
2 Detroit 9-4 at New York Giants NFC North Champ
3 Seattle 8-4-1 vs. Los Angeles (Thursday) NFC West Champ
4 Atlanta 8-5 vs. San Francisco NFC South Champ
5 New York Giants 9-4 vs. Detroit
6 Tampa Bay 8-5 at Dallas
7 Washington 7-5-1 vs. Carolina (Monday) Cannot win NFC East
8 Minnesota 7-6 vs. Indianapolis
9 Green Bay 7-6 at Chicago
10 Arizona 5-7-1 vs. New Orleans

Must-watch games:

Green Bay (7-6) at Chicago (3-10) - 1:00 p.m. ET - FOX

Who to root for: Chicago

A loss for the Packers here would be a tremendous help to secure the division title for the Lions. Plus, it’s the Packers. Even if they were eliminated from contention, we would still be recommending everyone root against them in all but the most extreme exceptions.

Indianapolis (6-7) at Minnesota (7-6) - 1:00 p.m. ET - CBS

Who to root for: Indianapolis

Aside from the obvious “root for the AFC team to beat any NFC playoff contender,” a loss for the Vikings ends their slim chances at winning the NFC North. Even if they won their final two games to finish 9-7 and the Lions lost out the rest of the way to also finish 9-7, the Lions hold the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Tampa Bay (8-5) at Dallas (11-2) - 8:30 p.m. ET - NBC (Sunday Night)

Who to root for: Tampa Bay

Absolutely root for Cowboys losses, which narrows the gap separating their first seed from the Lions at the second spot. The Cowboys are unlikely to drop a second straight game—especially at Jerry World—but it’s nice to dream. As a side note, there are MVP considerations in play here as well: watch how rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott perform against the Bucs’ ball-hawking defense (25 takeaways, tied with three other teams to lead the NFL).

Late edit: Jeremy Reisman pointed out this was an interesting selection since Tampa Bay losses help the Detroit Wild Card scenarios. Remember that if it comes to Plan B, Detroit wants Atlanta to win the NFC South and not Tampa Bay. Dallas losing to the New York Giants and then to Tampa Bay would shatter the air of invincibility that was looming back at 11-1. Ryan Mathews dredged up our staff predictions from the preseason, and you can see that I’d thought a lack of Tony Romo would make the Cowboys more beatable:

Andrew Kato


10-6 now that the Cowboys are without Romo, the Vikings are without Teddy, and the Colts defense is a mess. Prior to the Romo and Bridgewater injuries, I'd have put the Lions at 8-8 but now they should have a good chance to win at home against the Vikings and the game against the Cowboys.

Then Dak Prescott refused to “play like a rookie.” Another loss and another mediocre game from Prescott puts us, I think, back in the world of a beatable Cowboys team with its confidence shaken. That said, it is defensible to go either way on this game and prefer a Cowboys win over the Buccaneers to help the Lions’ Wild Card scenarios.

Games to keep an eye on:

Los Angeles (4-9) at Seattle (8-4-1) - 8:25 pm. ET - NBC (Thursday)

Who to root for: Los Angeles

While a Seahawks’ loss would also help the Lions maintain positioning in the playoff seeding, the Rams are a franchise in disarray. Even if Jeff Fisher is no longer at the helm, that team is not very likely to win out the rest of the way to finish 7-9.

San Francisco (1-12) at Atlanta (8-5) - 4:05 p.m. ET - FOX

Who to root for: San Francisco

A loss for the NFC South leader would help the Lions maintain a lead in the seeding. No, this isn’t happening—it is the Niners and Matt Ryan is posting MVP level production for the Falcons—but, again, it’s nice to dream.

Carolina (5-8) at Washington (7-5-1) - 8:30 p.m. ET - ESPN (Monday)

Who to root for: Carolina

Another loss to Washington further weakens their prospects of fighting for the second Wild Card spot. Carolina is nearly out of the running with a ceiling of .500 on the year, so a win for Ron Rivera’s crew hardly does any harm to Detroit’s position.

New Orleans (5-8) at Arizona (5-7-1) - 4:05 p.m. ET - FOX

Who to root for: New Orleans

A win for the visiting team should be viewed as indirectly beneficial to the Lions because the Saints will play the Buccaneers in Week 16 and the Falcons in Week 17. If beating the Cardinals keeps their hopes alive and provides the Saints incentive to play tough to win their last two games, so much the better for the Lions (who hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Saints).

Cleveland (0-13) at Buffalo (6-7) - 1:00 p.m. ET - CBS

Who to root for: Buffalo

Four THREE weeks to go, folks. It’s happening. It really is! Everybody stay calm!

Games that don’t matter:

Pittsburgh (8-5) at Cincinnati (5-7-1) - 1:00 p.m. ET - CBS

Tennessee (7-6) at Kansas City (10-3) - 1:00 p.m ET - CBS

Jacksonville (2-11) at Houston (7-6) - 1:00 p.m. ET - CBS

Philadelphia (5-8) at Baltimore (7-6) - 1:00 p.m. ET - FOX

Oakland (10-3) at San Diego (5-8) - 4:25 p.m. ET - CBS

New England (11-2) at Denver (8-5) - 4.25 p.m ET - CBS

Miami (8-5) at New York Jets (4-9) - 8:25 p.m. ET - NFLN (Saturday)

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