The Detroit Lions pretty much closed any realistic shot of winning the NFC North with their loss to the Minnesota Vikings this week. The Vikings would have to lose at least three of their final five games, and even if they did, one of those would have to come against the Bears or Packers, and the Lions would have to finish undefeated.
That’s just not going to happen, so it’s time to put 100 percent of our focus on getting into the playoffs via a wild card spot. Thankfully, there are some contenders with really tough schedules ahead, so the chances that the Lions get the help they need is quite realistic. It all starts this Sunday.
So here are the teams Lions fans should be rooting for this week:
Buccaneers (4-6) at Falcons (6-4) — 1 p.m. ET - FOX
Who to root for: Buccaneers
Of all the teams that the Lions need to tank, the Falcons are one of the most important. Not only do they currently hold the final wild card spot at the moment, but they also have the head-to-head tiebreaker over Detroit. They are also the most realistic team to falter down the stretch given their treacherous schedule.
A win for the Bucs isn’t very helpful for Detroit, but if the Lions plan on getting into the playoffs, they pretty much have to beat the Bucs in two weeks anyways, and that should be enough to keep ahead of them in the standings.
Who to root for: Jets
AFC over NFC. The Panthers currently hold the the first wild card spot, and it would sure be nice if they somehow plummeted in the final stretch of the season. They, too, hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Lions and also have a challenging schedule. They seem like one of the more unlikely teams to struggled down the stretch, but if they drop this trap game, it would certainly open up the possibility for a big losing streak (next two games are at Saints, vs. Vikings).
Bears (3-7) at Eagles (9-1) — 1 p.m. ET - FOX
Who to root for: Bears
I know what you’re thinking. “There’s no way in hell I’m rooting for the Bears.” But stick with me here. The Eagles are currently running away with the conference. We don’t necessarily want that to happen. We want the Eagles playing for something down the stretch, because they are playing some key wild card contenders in their final five games (Seahawks, Rams and Cowboys). Detroit needs the Eagles to win all of those games, but if they have nothing to play for, they may not give it their best shot. A let-down game against Chicago is exactly what this team needs to stay motivated in December.
Seahawks (6-4) at 49ers (1-9) — 4:05 p.m. ET - FOX
Who to root for: 49ers
The Seahawks are another team whose failure is pivotal to the Lions’ postseason chances. The tiebreaker between Detroit and Seattle hasn’t been decided yet, but a key NFC loss here would be huge for the Lions. The Seahawks are another team with a tough schedule down the road (games remaining against the Eagles, Jaguars, Rams), and given their current injury struggles, they could certainly lose a handful of games.
If they somehow drop this game to the Niners, it could be the beginning of the end for Seattle.
Saints (8-2) at Rams (7-3) — 4:25 p.m. ET - CBS
Who to root for: Saints
The Saints are 8-2, they have the tiebreaker over the Lions, and they’re on an eight-game winning streak. At this point, it’s probably best for them to just keep punishing other teams in the conference and run away with the division.
In fact, the Saints should really be the Lions’ favorite team right now. They could hand losses to the Rams, Panthers, Falcons (twice) and Buccaneers in their next six games. Additionally, a Saints win would would keep those Eagles motivated to win and hold onto that one-seed.
As for the Rams, a loss would be helpful just in case the Seahawks went on a run and took the lead in the division. If that becomes the case, the Rams would become Detroit’s contender in the wild card race, and considering their mediocre conference record (4-3), the Lions could certainly jump them.
Jaguars (7-3) at Cardinals (4-6) — 4:25 p.m. ET - CBS
Who to root for: Jaguars
AFC over NFC, always. The Cardinals don’t pose too much of a threat to the Lions in the wild card race, seeing as they’re already 1.5 games ahead of them and also have the tiebreaker. Essentially, if the Lions go 4-1 down the stretch—which they’ll likely have to do to make the postseason—the Cardinals can’t catch them. But why not bury them a little early?
You could make the argument that the Lions want Arizona in contention as long as possible, so that they have motivation to take down a team like the Rams or the Seahawks later in the season, but that’s splitting hairs, and I think they chances of beating either of those teams are small.
Packers (5-5) at Steelers (8-2) — 8:30 p.m. ET - NBC
Who to root for: Steelers
AFC over NFC and anyone-but-the-Packers. It really feels like the Packers are already done, considering how poor they’ve looked with Brett Hundley behind center, but the truth is, they’re very much in the race mathematically. That absolutely needs to change before Green Bay gets any ideas about bringing Aaron Rodgers back.
Unfortunately, the Packers’ next two games are against the Bucs and Browns, so the Packers absolutely have to lose this game. If not, Rodgers could theoretically come back to an 8-5 Packers team in Week 15. That’s a scary proposition for their final three opponents: the Panthers, Vikings and the (gulp) Lions.
If all of these games break the Lions’ way, here’s what the playoff standings will look like after 12 weeks:
- Saints: 9-2
- Vikings: 9-2
- Eagles: 9-2
- Rams: 7-4
- Panthers: 7-4
- Falcons: 6-5
- Lions: 6-5
- Seahawks: 6-5
- Cowboys: 5-6
- Packers: 5-6
- Washington: 5-6
- Buccaneers: 5-6
The Lions would remain a game back of one wild card spot, and just a tiebreaker away from the second. While that feels like a tough hill to climb with only five games remaining, the schedule make it very much a realistic possibility. Those NFC South teams will start to beat up on each other soon, so if the Lions can win at least four of their five final games, they’ll have a realistic shot.