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NFC Week 13 playoff picture: Lions’ magic number is 3

Lions still in command of the NFC North after a tremendous win at New Orleans.

NFL: Detroit Lions at New Orleans Saints Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Entering Week 13, here was the playoff situation:

Seed Team Record entering week Result in Week 13
1 Dallas 10-1 Beat Minnesota, 17-15
2 Seattle 7-3-1 Beat Carolina, 40-7
3 Detroit 7-4 Won at New Orleans, 28-13
4 Atlanta 7-4 Lost to Kansas City, 28-29
5 New York 8-3 Lost at Pittsburgh, 14-24
6 Washington 6-4-1 Lost at Arizona, 23-31
7 Tampa Bay 6-5 Won at San Diego, 28-21
8 Minnesota 6-5 Lost to Dallas, 15-17
9 New Orleans 5-6 Lost to Detroit, 13-28
10 Green Bay 5-6 Beat Houston, 21-13

For the NFC North division crown, the Lions increased their lead to two games over the Minnesota Vikings (who lost to the Dallas Cowboys) and maintained an existing two game lead over the Green Bay Packers (who beat the Houston Texans). With the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Vikings in hand, the biggest threat to the Lions’ division hopes becomes the Packers.

Seed Team Record after this week Notes
1 Dallas 11-1 Projected NFC East Champion
2 Seattle 8-3-1 Projected NFC West Champion
3 Detroit 8-4 Projected NFC North Champion
4 Atlanta 7-5 Projected NFC South Champion
5 New York 8-4 Projected Wild Card
6 Tampa Bay 7-5 Projected Wild Card
7 Washington 6-5-1
8 Minnesota 6-6
9 Green Bay 6-6
10 Arizona 5-6-1 Beat Washington, 31-23

Following the 4 p.m. ET games, Washington is out after losing at Arizona. Tampa Bay moves up to take their place following a win at San Diego. Although Atlanta’s loss did not change anything in the current playoff standings, Tampa Bay and Atlanta have already split their home-and-away series; the NFC South title could end up going to either one of those 7-5 teams. New York’s loss likewise did not affect the playoff picture this week, but keeps them within striking distance for all of the six-win teams looking in.

Another item of interest is the reappearance of the Cardinals. Arizona’s big fourth quarter comeback against Washington moves them a half-game past New Orleans and Philadelphia into the 10th spot. The Sunday night game had direct implications for Lions fans, as a Seahawks loss would have flipped the number 2 and 3 seeds. Unfortunately, the Panthers were not able to prevail at the noise factory known as CenturyLink Field.

The ideal scenario

Remaining schedules for the six current playoff teams are below:

Dallas Seattle Detroit Atlanta New York Tampa Bay
Week 14 at NYG at GBY CHI at LOS DAL NOS
Week 16 DET ARI at DAL at CAR at PHI at NOS
Week 17 at PHI at SFO GBY NOS at WAS CAR

Clearly, everyone can’t lose every game because among those matchups are some head-to-head meetings between current playoff seeds. In general, the following rules apply first:

  • Detroit always wants Green Bay and Minnesota to lose, locking up the NFC North title.
  • If not playing Green Bay or Minnesota, Detroit always wants Seattle and Dallas to lose.
Dallas Seattle Detroit Atlanta New York Tampa Bay
Week 14 11-2 9-3-1 9-4 7-6 9-4 7-6
Week 15 11-3 9-4-1 10-4 8-6 9-5 8-6
Week 16 11-4 9-5-1 11-4 8-7 9-6 8-7
Week 17 11-5 9-6-1 12-4 8-8 9-7 8-8

Atlanta would win the NFC South due to the division record tiebreaker in that scenario. Depending on what happens in other games involving Philadelphia, Arizona, and Washington, the wild card spots would be two of any of those teams, Tampa Bay, or New York. The only thing locked in so far is the fact that Dallas will be in the playoffs: no seeding is clinched yet, so the final four weeks of the year will be delightfully intense for Lions fans.