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NFL playoff picture: Week 15 Detroit Lions rooting guide

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Here’s who to root for in Week 15 and why.

Arizona Cardinals v Detroit Lions Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Detroit Lions took care of business on Saturday by beating the Chicago Bears. The Lions now sit at a respectable 8-6, but their path to the playoff is still roadblocked by a handful of teams with better records. In order for the Lions to make the postseason for the second season in a row, they’re going to need some help.

That’s where we come in. There are five games remaining on this week’s schedule that have a somewhat significant impact on the Lions’ playoff chances going forward. If—and this is a big if—all five games go the Lions’ way this week, their playoff chances skyrocket to around 40 percent according to the New York Times and FiveThirtyEight.

Here’s what needs to happen:

Sunday

Cincinnati Bengals (5-8) at Minnesota Vikings (10-3) - 1 p.m. ET - CBS

Who to root for: Bengals

It’s extremely unlikely, but the Lions’ NFC North title chances are still alive. If the Vikings lose out and the Lions win out, Detroit will win their division for the first time since 1993. It won’t happen, but there’s no harm in rooting for it. Plus, a Vikings loss would only give them more reason to beat up the Packers next week.

New York Jets (5-8) at New Orleans Saints (9-4) - 1 p.m. ET - CBS

Who to root for: Jets

Always root for AFC over NFC. The Saints are a team that the Lions are extremely unlikely to catch, but a loss here would certainly open up some possibilities. New Orleans hosts the Falcons next week, so this could be the start of an improbable fall.

Green Bay Packers (7-6) at Carolina Panthers (9-4) - 1 p.m. ET - FOX

Who to root for: Packers

I KNOW I KNOW I KNOW, JUST HEAR ME OUT.

A Packers win may keep them in step with the Lions, but a Panthers win is so much more harmful to the Lions. According to the New York Times’ playoff prediction model, the Lions’ playoff odds jump to 19 percent with a Packers win and drops to 14 percent with a Panthers win. That’s not huge, but it certainly is significant.

I know giving Aaron Rodgers a win and the Packers team some momentum is scary, but ideally, the Vikings would smack them down to reality next week and they’d be playing for nothing in Week 17.

Los Angeles Rams (9-4) at Seattle Seahawks (8-5) - 4:05 p.m. ET - FOX

Who to root for: Rams

The Lions need the Seahawks to lose one more game for them to jump them in the standings. This is likely the best chance they’ll have to do that this season. Seattle finishes with the Cowboys and Cardinals, so a loss to the Rams would essentially make those games irrelevant for Detroit. The sooner more teams are irrelevant, the better for the Lions.

Monday

Atlanta Falcons (8-5) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-9) - 8:30 p.m. ET - ESPN

Who to root for: Buccaneers

This is the most important non-Lions game of the week. A Falcons loss would be absolutely enormous. Putting all other results aside for a moment, a Falcons loss alone would propel the Lions’ playoff chances to 20 percent. Combine that with a Lions win, and suddenly Detroit’s postseason odds jump to around 30 percent, according to the New York Times.

The Lions need the Falcons to lose twice to catch them, and with games against the Saints and Panthers to finish the season, that would look extremely likely if they were to get upset this week.

Overall

If the aforementioned five games all go the Lions’ way, here’s what the standings would look like (assuming a meaningless win for the Eagles)

  1. Eagles: 12-2 (10-1 in conference)
  2. Vikings: 10-4 (8-2)
  3. Rams: 10-4 (7-4)
  4. Saints: 9-5 (7-3)
  5. Panthers: 9-5 (5-5)
  6. Falcons: 8-6 (7-3)
  7. Lions: 8-6 (7-4)
  8. Seahawks: 8-6 (6-4)
  9. Packers: 8-6 (6-4)

The Lions would just barely be on the outside looking in. Atlanta would grab the six-seed because they have beaten both the Seahawks and the Lions this year—the Packers aren’t part of the tiebreaker, because Detroit has the head-to-head tiebreaker over Green Bay. Additionally, if the Cowboys are also 8-6, it changes nothing, because Atlanta has beaten them, too.

Of course, some of those outcomes are a little unlikely. So let’s say the Lions only get help from the Rams over Seahawks and the Packers over the Panthers. Those are two very realistic outcomes. Here’s how the standings would look if everything else went against the Lions.

  1. Eagles: 12-2 (10-1)
  2. Vikings: 11-3 (8-2)
  3. Rams: 10-4 (7-4)
  4. Saints: 10-4 (7-3)
  5. Panthers: 9-5 (5-5)
  6. Falcons: 9-5 (8-2)
  7. Lions: 8-6 (7-4)
  8. Seahawks: 8-6 (6-4)
  9. Packers: 8-6 (6-4)

This wouldn’t change the order of the standings at all, but it would make the Lions’ climb a bit tougher. At this point, the Lions would either need the Falcons or Panthers to lose their final two games, or Detroit would somehow need to finish in a three-way tie with the Panthers and Seahawks at 10-6.