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Detroit Lions playoff picture: What’s on the line in Week 13

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A look at the possible scenarios for Sunday.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Week 13 got off to a nice start for the Detroit Lions, with the Minnesota Vikings losing on “Thursday Night Football.” However, the Lions still have a long ways to go. They may hold a two-game lead in the division with five games left, but that lead can evaporate very quickly, especially with the way the schedule is set up.

Still, if everything goes the Lions’ way on Sunday, they could have a commanding lead that would make their margin of error so wide that an NFC North title would nearly be guaranteed. Here’s a look at the possible scenarios.

For the sake of simplicity we’re simply going to look at the scenarios between the Lions and Packers.

Lions win, Packers lose

Let’s start with our favorite scenario, because it’s intoxicating to look at the possibilities. If the Lions beat the Saints and the Texans down the Packers, Detroit will be in incredible shape. In fact, they’d be left with a scenario in which they could potentially clinch the NFC North as early as next week. Here’s what the standings would look like.

1. Lions - 8-4
2. Vikings - 6-6
3. Packers - 5-7
4. Bears - mathematically eliminated

So the Lions would have a two-game lead plus the tiebreaker over the Vikings and a healthy three-game lead over the Packers. That would mean if the same thing happened the following week—the Lions beat the Bears, the Packers lose to the Seahawks and the Vikings lose to the Jaguars—Detroit would clinch the division in Week 14. Let me just repeat that in case you passed out after reading it. The Lions could clinch the NFC North division as early as next week. It would take a lot of ‘ifs’ but it’s fun to think about.

Even if they didn’t clinch the division that week, their magic number would only be two with four games remaining. Detroit would have to carve out two wins in their final four games, and could even get by with just one, as long as the Packers or Vikings don’t run the table in the last four weeks.

Lions win, Packers win

Any time the Lions win, it’s going to be huge down the stretch. But with a Packers win on Sunday, any chances of an early clinching for the Lions pretty much go out of the window. The standings would look like this:

1. Lions - 8-4
2. Vikings - 6-6
3. Packers - 6-6
4. Bears - mathematically eliminated

The Packers would technically stay below the Vikings on account that Minnesota defeated Green Bay earlier in the year, but they’d be the bigger threat to Detroit because they hold the tiebreaker over the Lions. A two-game lead with four games left would still be pretty commanding, but the Lions magic number would still be three. If Green Bay wins out (vs. Seahawks; at Bears; vs. Vikings; at Lions), the Lions would have to go 3-1 down the stretch to avoid losing the division. That’s a tall task, considering their schedule (vs. Bears; at Giants; at Cowboys; vs. Packers).

Lions lose, Packers win

Now for the nightmare scenario. A Packers win with a Lions loss would suddenly drop Detroit’s lead to just a single game. Take a look:

1. Lions - 7-5
2. Vikings - 6-6
3. Packers - 6-6
4. Bears - 3-9 (if they’re lucky)

Not only would this bring the Packers back into play for the division title, but it would keep Minnesota’s small chance at avoiding a huge collapse alive. Both the Vikings and the Packers have easier schedules down the stretch than the Lions, so Detroit’s one-game lead would be tenuous at best. Assuming that none of the teams completely collapse down the stretch, this almost guarantees that Week 17’s game between the Lions and Packers will decide the division in some fashion or another.

Lions lose, Packers lose

If all three contenders for the NFC North lose in Week 13, it would benefit the Vikings the most.

1. Lions - 7-5
2. Vikings - 6-6
3. Packers - 5-7
4. Bears - 3-9 (if they’re lucky)

This scenario is much like the “win, win” scenario in that the Lions magic number would stay at three. However, this scenario would keep the Vikings in the mix, as they’d only be a game plus a tiebreaker out of the division. Considering the Vikings have the easiest schedule remaining (at Jaguars; vs. Colts; at Packers; vs. Bears), winning the division would remain a very realistic possibility.