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Week 11 NFL playoff picture: Lions need some help in crowded NFC

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The Lions are back on track, but they aren’t getting the help they need to gain ground.

Carolina Panthers v Detroit Lions Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

It has been an awful month for the Detroit Lions rooting guide. For Week 9, the outcome of just one of seven games benefited the Lions in their hunt for a playoff spot this year. The Week 10 rooting guide didn’t fare much better: Just two of nine games fell the Lions way, and as a result, we have a messy NFC playoff situation.

Let’s start with the North:

  1. Minnesota Vikings: 7-2 (2-1 in division)
  2. Detroit Lions: 5-4 (2-0)
  3. Green Bay Packers: 5-4 (2-2)
  4. Chicago Bears: 3-6 (0-3)

We’re all pretty familiar with this situation as it is. The Lions and Vikings are just over a week away from a huge showdown on Thanksgiving. Between now and then, the Lions will face the Bears in Chicago, while the Vikings are hosting the red hot Rams. If Detroit prevails and the Rams take down the Vikings, Thanksgiving will be for first place.

But it’s also important to note that the Packers are still very much alive. Though they’ve dropped games to both the Vikings and Lions, they’re just two games out, and if they can keep their head above water just long enough, it’s possible Aaron Rodgers could return for, at most, the final three games of the season.

NFC Wild Card

Here’s a look at the full NFC standings after Week 10:

  1. Philadelphia Eagles: 8-1
  2. Minnesota Vikings: 7-2
  3. New Orleans Saints: 7-2
  4. Los Angeles Rams: 7-2
  5. Carolina Panthers: 7-3
  6. Seattle Seahawks: 6-3
  7. Atlanta Falcons: 5-4
  8. Detroit Lions: 5-4
  9. Green Bay Packers: 5-4
  10. Dallas Cowboys: 5-4
  11. Washington: 4-5
  12. Arizona Cardinals: 4-5

First off, it’s astounding that realistically there are still 12 teams very much alive in the playoff race. Six teams on the outside looking in are within just two games of a playoff spot, and with so many division games left on each team’s schedule, there is going to be a lot of teams beating up on each other over the next two months.

As for the Lions’ outlook, it’s a mixed bag. On the positive side, they’re just a game behind the Seahawks, and that’s a team Detroit could potentially win the tiebreaker over. Though Seattle currently holds the conference record tiebreaker (4-2 to 4-3), that could certainly change in the near future. The next tiebreaker—common games—is currently held by the Lions. Detroit is 3-0 in common games so far (Packers, Giants, Cardinals), while the Seahawks are 2-1.

The problem, however, is the NFC South. Detroit is already 0-3 against the South and all three of those teams are hotly in contention. Detroit is two games behind the Saints and 1.5 games behind the Panthers, but when you factor in the head-to-head tiebreaker, those numbers are really three and 2.5 games behind respectively. Though all three contending NFC South teams still have at least three in-division games to beat up on each other, it’s hard to see the Lions catching New Orleans or Carolina.

That leaves just one open spot in the wild card race for Detroit, and boy do they have some heavy competition. Besides hoping that a Richard Sherman-less Seahawks team collapses down the stretch, they’ll not only need the Falcons to lose, but they also have to maintain their steady pace over the likes of decent teams like the Cowboys and maybe even the Packers.

But, as always, there’s good news, and it comes in the form of the schedule. Here is the strength of schedule for the seven teams in the hunt for that final playoff spot.

Falcons: .625
Seahawks: .563
Cowboys: .540
Cardinals: .524
Packers: .516
Lions: .444
Washington: .381

The Lions have a considerably easier schedule than everyone other than Washington, who currently is a game behind the Lions anyways. The Lions absolutely need to take care of business and beat the teams they are supposed to beat. If they can do that, 11-5 should get them into the postseason, whether that’s as a wild card or a division winner.

Anything short of that, however, and the Lions may not get in. The NFC is stacked this year, and the Lions put themselves in too big of a hole with those early losses to the NFC South.