The NFL has a nice batch of games on Saturday—12 to be exact—to bring in the holiday season for football fans. For the Detroit Lions, it means a chance to get a present early, as they can clinch a playoff sport before taking the field against the Dallas Cowboys on Monday night.
Hopefully, you are with family for the holidays and can enjoy this slate of games with loved ones, but even if you aren’t, let football be your family—and also join us for all-day open threads as we discuss the games—because Saturday is going to be fun.
Before we get into the games you should watch today, make sure you catch up on the playoff outlook:
1 p.m. ET
Washington at Chicago - FOX
Of the first set of games, this is the one that affects the Lions’ playoff chances the most. According to the New York Times, this game swings the Lions’ odds to make the postseason by five percent either way. The Lions need a Washington loss or tie, a Buccaneers loss and a Falcons win or tie to clinch a playoff spot. Washington’s loss or tie can come this week or next, but it would be nice to get it out of the way now.
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This is the local game for almost all markets—you can check about your neck of the woods here—and it obviously has a fair amount of importance to the Lions. A Vikings win would give the Lions a prime opportunity to clinch the division on Monday night. However, if the Lions end up losing to the Cowboys, this game will end up being quite meaningless, unless you’re really hoping the Packers miss the playoffs entirely. Green Bay can actually clinch a playoff spot this week, too.
Falcons at Panthers - FOX
This is another piece of the puzzle in Detroit getting their playoff berth on Christmas eve. The Falcons are clinging to one-game lead in the NFC South, so they will be playing just as hard as Lions fans want them to. A win for Atlanta brings them one step closer to winning the division and the Lions one step closer to clinching that playoff spot.
Next week, the Browns will be running into a Steelers team that will likely still be playing for something, be it seeding or the AFC North crown. So if Cleveland is going to avoid the embarrassment of an 0-16 season, they’ll have to defeat the Chargers.
4:25 p.m. ET
Buccaneers at Saints - FOX
This is, without a doubt, the most important game of the week for the Lions (outside of their own). Detroit’s playoff chances swing by 10 percent in either direction depending on the outcome of this game. While the Lions also need a Falcons win/tie and a Washington loss/tie to help clinch a playoff spot, those can happen either this week or next. The third piece of the puzzle, a Bucs loss, needs to happen this week, because it would clinch the Lions’ “common games” tiebreaker (the Lions beat New Orleans earlier in the year). If you watch only one NFL game this week, make it this one, because if the Lions get this game in their favor, they can still clinch a playoff spot this week regardless of whether the other conditions are met by simply beating the Cowboys on Monday.
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If you’re annoyed by all of this Wild Card talk because you think the Lions are not only going to win their division, but challenge for a first-round bye, this is the game you should be watching. Detroit could leap-frog all the way back into that position with a Seahawks and Falcons loss in Week 16, then clinch the two-seed by winning out. It’s an unlikely scenario considering both Atlanta and Seattle are favorites, but there’s nothing wrong with hoping for a Christmas miracle.