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NFL playoff picture: Lions’ division title hopes smashed, but wild card still possible

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Don’t count the Lions out just yet.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Lions’ playoff odds took a big hit on Thursday after losing to the division-leading Minnesota Vikings. While it’s not impossible for Detroit to still come away with their first NFC North title, it seems extremely unlikely at this point. Let’s take a look at the standings:

NFC North standings (through Thursday)

  1. Vikings: 9-2 (3-1 in division)
  2. Lions: 6-5 (3-1)
  3. Packers: 5-5 (2-2)
  4. Bears: 3-7 (0-4)

Detroit is now a full three games behind, and even worse, there’s a good chance they’ll lose out on the tie-breaker with the Vikings. Because the head-to-head and divisional records are now tied at 1-1 and 3-1 respectively, the third tiebreaker is conference record. There, the Vikings have a huge 7-1 to 5-4 lead.

In essence, the Vikings would have to massively collapse down the stretch for the Lions to have any real chance. Granted they have tough games against the Falcons and Panthers remaining, but if they take care of business against the Packers and Bears, they are guaranteed to win the division, because, at worst, their conference record would be 9-3.

The division is realistically unobtainable for the Lions, so it’s time to start focusing in hard on the wild card. Here are the full NFC standings after Thursday’s games:

  1. Eagles: 9-1 (7-0 in conference)
  2. Vikings: 9-2 (7-1)
  3. Saints: 8-2 (6-1)
  4. Rams: 7-3 (4-3)
  5. Panthers: 7-3 (4-3)
  6. Falcons: 6-4 (5-1)
  7. Seahawks: 6-4 (4-3)
  8. Lions: 6-5 (5-4)
  9. Packers: 5-5 (4-4)
  10. Cowboys: 5-6 (4-4)
  11. Washington: 5-6 (4-5)
  12. Cardinals: 4-6 (3-5)
  13. Buccaneers: 4-6 (2-4)

The Lions fell just one spot after their loss to the Vikings, and they won’t fall any farther after the rest of Week 12 finishes up. With the Cowboys’ loss on Thursday and the Packers seemingly in freefall, right now this wild card race seems like it’s between four teams:

  • 2 teams out of the NFC South (whoever doesn’t win the division out of Saints/Panthers/Falcons)
  • The Seahawks
  • The Lions

Detroit is going to need at least one NFC South team to tank the rest of the way, considering they’ve lost to all three of them. The good news is that all of them have tough remaining schedules. Take a look:

Panthers opponents’ record: 36-25 (.590)
Saints: 34-26 (.567)
Falcons: 40-21 (.656)

Meanwhile, the Lions don’t have a game remaining against a team with a winning record.

Then there’s the Seahawks. Seattle doesn’t have the tiebreaker over the Lions, so Detroit could theoretically tie them in record and still come out on top. Right now, their conference records are similar, so the tiebreaker edge has yet to be determined.

Considering all of Seattle’s defensive injuries, they’re definitely a team that could struggle in the final month of the season. Their schedule, while easier than the NFC South teams above, is no easy task either. Their future opponent’s record is 33-28 (.541).

So while the door on the division is ultimately closed, the wild card is still very much in play. Detroit will likely have to go at least 4-1 down the stretch, but...