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NFL Week 15 playoff picture: Vikings clinch division, but Lions still kicking

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The Lions’ playoff chances are far from dead.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

It was far from a perfect Sunday for the Detroit Lions. After taking care of their own business on Saturday, the Lions were hoping for some additional help from the Packers, Jets or Bengals. All three of those would have been upsets, so it’s not all that surprising that Detroit didn’t get any help from the early games.

That being said, they did get some key help from the Los Angeles Rams, who dismantled the Seattle Seahawks in embarrassing fashion. Here’s how the NFC playoff picture looks after Sunday’s afternoon games:

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

z = clinched first round bye
y = clinched division title

Minnesota’s decisive win over the Bengals officially eliminated any tiny chance of a Lions NFC North title. But Detroit’s wild card hopes are still very much alive.

The Lions jumped the Seahawks thanks to a better conference record. Though Seattle can even up the conference record by the season’s end, Detroit holds the next tiebreaker: record in common games. In other words, if the Lions win out, there’s nothing the Seahawks can do to catch them.

But the Lions need to catch one more team, and it’s becoming very clear who that team is most likely to be: The Atlanta Falcons.

Here’s the problem: The Lions lost to the Falcons earlier in the season, meaning a two-way tie gets the Falcons in. A three-way tie at 10-6 with the Seahawks and Falcons would also be no good, because the Falcons have beaten both Seattle and Detroit.

So it comes down to this:

The easiest route for the Lions to make the playoffs is to win out and for the Falcons to lose two of their final three games.

Looking at Atlanta’s schedule, that certainly seems possible. As long as they lose any combination of two games below, the Lions can catch them:

  • at Buccaneers (12/18 Monday Night Football)
  • at Saints
  • vs. Panthers

That way, the Falcons fall to 9-7, the Lions are 10-6, and any other team currently below the Lions in the standings will not beat Detroit in a 10-6 tiebreaker.

There are other ways for the Lions to get in, (i.e. Panthers losing out, creating a three-way tie between Carolina, Seattle and Detroit), but this is both the easiest to understand and the most likely scenario.