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NFC playoff picture: Lions drop to four seed, still control their destiny

It wasn’t a great day for the Lions, but it looks like Week 17 will be the key to their playoff hopes.

Detroit Lions v New York Giants Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

The Detroit Lions did not have a good Sunday. They dropped a big game against the New York Giants, they potentially lost two key starters and they didn’t get any help from anyone else in the NFC.

On the plus side, the Lions still lead the NFC North and still have the same clinching scenarios: Detroit clinches the division with a win and a Packers loss. Here’s a look at the standings before the Sunday night game:

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

*Plays Monday night

At this point in time, these are the only team that matter. The Vikings, Cardinals and Saints are all still in the race, but none of them can catch the Detroit Lions.

As you can see, the Lions have fallen from the two-seed to the fourth. They remain above the Giants on account of being a division leader, but the Falcons have a better strength of victory, so they jump the Lions for the third seed.

If you’re looking for a backdoor route for the Lions to make the playoffs via a Wild Card, the outlook isn’t great. They’ll have to finish above two of the following three teams: Giants , Bucs/Falcons and Washington. A Lions Wild Card spot would mean they missed out on the NFC North, meaning the Packers would win in Week 17. That means the Lions would finish with a record no better than 10-6. That wouldn’t be good enough to beat the Giants, who have the tiebreakers over them.

So the Lions would need Washington and either the Bucs or Falcons to fumble down the rest of the season. Both Washington and Tampa still have to play this week, but here’s how their schedule looks:


at Saints
vs. Panthers


vs. Panthers
at Bears
vs. Giants

Detroit essentially needs both teams fall to 10-6 down the stretch, and that’s certainly possible. However, that assumes a Lions win over the Cowboys.

If Detroit drops the next two games, things get complicated. If Tampa Bay finishes with the same record (goes 1-1 down the stretch), the Bucs may have the tiebreaker depending on which game they win. If Tampa’s only one remaining win is against the Saints, Tampa would have the tiebreaker; but if their only win is against the Panthers, the Lions get the tiebreaker. The other solution is the Falcons losing out (at Panthers, vs. Saints) and having the Bucs win the division. Detroit would be guaranteed to have the tiebreaker over the Falcons, based on winning percentage in common games.

Of course, for any of that to come into play, Washington needs to win, at most, one of its three remaining games.

But all of that is complicated and will wait until Week 17. As it was for Week 15, the easiest way for the Lions to get into the playoffs is through the division. Now that the Vikings are out of the picture, the solution is simple. A Lions win plus a Packers loss equals an NFC North title for the Lions.

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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.