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Week 15 NFC playoff picture: Best and worst case scenarios for the Detroit Lions

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Here’s a look at the extreme scenarios from Week 15 in the NFL.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Houston Texans Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Prepare for the worst, hope for the best. That’s been the mantra of Detroit Lions football for the past couple decades, but the Lions have an opportunity to change that mentality by clinching their first division title since 1993. Still, we’re having a hard time shaking the notion here at Pride Of Detroit, so we just can’t help ourselves.

It doesn’t help that the Lions have a daunting schedule ahead. But for those still keeping their eye on the prize of a first round bye or even, possibly, a one-seed in the NFC, we’ll compromise. Here are the best and worst case scenarios for the Detroit Lions in Week 15.

For a reminder who you should be rooting for, check out Andrew Kato’s Week 15 rooting guide.

Best case scenario for the Lions

The best case scenario obviously starts with a Lions win over the Giants on Sunday afternoon. Here are the other ideal outcomes (sadly, the Rams already didn’t hold up their end of the bargain over the Seahawks):

Bears over Packers
Colts over Vikings
49ers over Falcons
Panthers over Washington
Saints over Cardinals

I left out the Cowboys-Buccaneers game, because fans are split on what scenario best fits the Lions’ needs. But since we’re talking best case scenarios, let’s go for that one-seed and take Bucs over Cowboys. If all of those things happen, here’s what the NFC playoff race would look like after Week 15

  1. Dallas Cowboys: 11-3
  2. Detroit Lions: 10-4
  3. Seattle Seahawks: 9-4-1
  4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 9-5
  5. New York Giants: 9-5
  6. Atlanta Falcons: 8-6
  7. Washington: 7-6-1
  8. Minnesota Vikings: 7-7
  9. Green Bay Packers: 7-7
  10. New Orleans Saints: 6-8

In this scenario, the Lions will have clinched the NFC North and would only have seeding left to play for. That would set up a battle between the Lions and Cowboys on Monday Night Football next week for the lead in the entire NFC. Detroit could still fall all the way to a four seed depending on how the final two weeks play out, but no matter what, they’d have a home playoff game guaranteed.

As for their rivals, the Packers and the Vikings, both would still be alive for a Wild Card spot, setting up a huge matchup between the two in Week 16.

Worst case scenarios for the Lions

Obviously, the worst case scenario for Detroit is the opposite of everything that happened above... except for one thing. If everything falls apart this week, a Bucs win would actually hurt the Lions more, as it makes a Wild Card spot less likely. Yes, that means a Bucs win is both part of the best and worst case scenarios for Detroit. That’s why the fanbase is so confused as to who they should be rooting for. Thankfully, that’s the Sunday night game, so the picture should be a little clearer by kickoff.

Anyways, here’s what the nightmare scenario of Week 15 looks like.

  1. Dallas Cowboys: 11-3
  2. Seattle Seahawks: 9-4-1
  3. Atlanta Falcons: 9-5
  4. Detroit Lions: 9-5
  5. New York Giants: 10-4
  6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 9-5
  7. Washington: 8-5-1
  8. Minnesota Vikings: 8-6
  9. Green Bay Packers: 8-6
  10. Arizona Cardinals: 6-7-1

In this case the Lions would drop to the four seed and be perilously close to dropping out of a playoff spot entirely. Both the Vikings and the Packers would be alive in the NFC North race, with a chance of one of those teams to catch the Lions the next week—though the Vikings would still be behind via tiebreaker if they win. Even if the Packers were to lose that game, they would get a shot at the division in Week 17 if the Lions lose to the Cowboys. Keeping both teams alive in the division race is a bad idea.

As far as the Wild Card goes, Detroit would also have to worry about Packers or Washington taking them out of the spot. In the absolutely nightmarish scenario which I fear to even mention, the Lions could theoretically finish the season 9-7, with the Vikings winning the division at 10-6 and the Packers getting in at 9-7 as a Wild Card over the Lions via the head-to-head tiebreaker.

The best way to avoid any nightmare scenarios is to simply win on Sunday. So for one final look at what could happen, let’s imagine the Lions pull of the upset, but all of the other results fall in line with the Vegas odds. Here’s what that looks like:

  1. Dallas Cowboys: 12-2
  2. Detroit Lions: 10-4
  3. Seattle Seahawks: 9-4-1
  4. Atlanta Falcons: 9-5
  5. New York Giants: 9-5
  6. Washington: 8-5-1
  7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 7-6
  8. Minnesota Vikings: 7-6
  9. Green Bay Packers: 7-6
  10. Arizona Cardinals: 6-7-1

In this scenario, the only way the Lions could fall out of a playoff spot entirely is by a tiebreaker via the Packers or Buccaneers. That would mean the Lions would be rooting for a Vikings victory over the Packers in Week 16, and would hope the Bucs drop a game against the Saints or Panthers in the last two games of the season. Or the Lions could make things easy and just win one more game and clinch the North.