It definitely seems like that may be the only path to a Lions postseason. After all, they sit behind three teams in the wild card race, two of which have essentially a two-game lead over the Lions. The Lions have no margin of error left in their schedule, thanks to early losses to the Panthers, Falcons and Saints.
But according to Football Outsiders, they may have a little more wiggle room than expected. Via this ESPN Insider article (subscription required), the Lions still have a really good chance to make the postseason even if they lose an additional game:
But the NFC is so strong this year that 9-7 is probably not going to get the Lions into the postseason. The Lions make the playoffs in 15 percent of simulations where they finish 9-7 but in 63 percent of simulations where they finish 10-6.
That’s right. A 10-6 Lions team still has a 63 percent according to Football Outsiders’ simulations.
For those curious about their methodology, here’s how they explain in:
The odds listed here come from a weekly Football Outsiders playoff odds simulation that plays out the rest of the season 50,000 times. Based on our ratings and home-field advantage, a random draw assigns each team a win or loss for each game.
While they don’t go into further details as why the Lions’ playoff chances are so high at 10-6, the remaining schedule of their competitors undoubtedly has a lot to do with it. The three competing teams in the NFC South still have four games against each other, guaranteeing the Panthers, Saints and Falcons will combine for at least four more losses (unless there is a tie involved).
Additionally, the two NFC leading teams (Vikings and Eagles) still have a combined three games against teams ahead of the Lions in the wild card race.
This week’s game between the Lions and Ravens is important for Detroit to keep pace, or even gain ground in the conference standings. The rest of the NFC has a tough Week 13 schedule:
(take 2)— Pride of Detroit (@PrideOfDetroit) November 28, 2017
Week 13 is going to be HUGE for the #Lions' playoff chances:
Vikings at Falcons
Panthers at Saints
Rams at Cardinals
Eagles at Seahawks
But if there’s a remaining game the Lions can afford to lose, it may be this one. A loss to the Ravens would not hurt their conference record, a key tiebreaker in the wildcard race.
So while fan morale would be at a season low should the Lions lose on Sunday, it will not even come close to ending their playoff chances. That being said, the Lions would absolutely have to finish 4-0 if that happens.