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Detroit Lions Week 15 rooting guide: NFC playoff race, NFL draft order

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Here’s who Lions fans should be rooting for whether it’s for draft position or playoff odds.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin-USA

Week 15 kicked off with three straight AFC games. The Chargers upset the Chiefs, the Texans held off the Jets, and the Browns picked up a nice road win over the Broncos.

In terms of what that means for the Detroit Lions... it’s mostly nothing. Obviously none of those games affected the NFC Wild Card race, and in terms of draft position, only the Jets loss really made an impact, pushing them further ahead of Detroit (New York is currently fourth in draft order).

But that means there’s a busy Sunday full of games that will both affect Detroit’s draft position and their very small chance at making the playoffs. Last week, literally everything went the Lions’ way, and it jumped Detroit’s playoff chances from 0.4 percent to 2.2 percent according to Football Outsiders.

If everything in Week 15 goes Detroit’s way, their playoff chances would jump to around 17 percent, according to the New York Times.

But since the odds remain such a longshot, I will also be providing the best possible outcomes for the Lions to get the best draft position.

Sunday

Cardinals (3-10) at Falcons (4-9) — 1 p.m. ET — FOX

Who to root for (playoffs): Cardinals
Who to root for (draft position): Falcons

For playoffs, the Cardinals are eliminated from playoff contention and the Falcons are longshots. So don’t worry about this game too much. Detroit can get into the playoffs at 7-9, but it’s an even longer shot than their current odds. Don’t bother thinking about it.

As for draft position, don’t bother dreaming about the Lions jumping the Cardinals. Even if they win this game, they’ll be a game ahead of Detroit with the Rams and Seahawks left on their schedule. Arizona is not winning two more games.

However, the Lions could certainly jump the Falcons in the standings. They have the Cardinals and the Buccaneers still on the schedule, which could bump them to the necessary six wins to drop below the Lions in draft order should Detroit lose out.

Packers (5-7-1) at Bears (9-4) — 1 p.m. ET — FOX

Who to root for (playoffs): Bears
Who to root for (draft position): Packers

The Lions can’t catch the Bears, but they can catch the Packers. For playoffs, that means hoping a Bears win nearly eliminated Green Bay from playoff contention. For draft position, a Packers win would make it hard for them to climb over the Lions with just two games remaining.

Raiders (3-10) at Bengals (5-8) — 1 p.m. ET — FOX

Who to root for (playoffs): N/A
Who to root for (draft position): Bengals

AFC means no playoff implications, but the draft position is up for debate. Oakland could certainly win two of their last three games (Bengals, Broncos most likely) and if the Lions lose out, they would both be 5-11. Strength of schedule, at the moment, favors the Lions, meaning they could still pick before the Raiders.

However, I think it’s much more likely that the Bengals, currently 11th in draft order, jump Detroit. With the Browns and Steelers remaining on the schedule, Cincy could lose one or both of those games. A win on Sunday would give the Lions a healthy lead over the Bengals in draft position. I think dreams of jumping the Raiders are a little too lofty.

Cowboys (8-5) at Colts (7-6) — 1 p.m. ET — FOX

Who to root for (playoffs): Colts
Who to root for (draft position): Colts

This game isn’t all that important in either scenario. The Lions would prefer the Cowboys to win their division, since they have the head-to-head tiebreaker in a wild card scenario, but always technically vote AFC over NFC in playoff scenarios.

For draft order, the Lions aren’t likely to be caught by either team, but a Colts makes that a near certainty.

Dolphins (7-6) at Vikings (6-6-1) — 1 p.m. ET — CBS

Who to root for (playoffs): Dolphins (IMPORTANT)
Who to root for (draft position): Vikings

Perhaps the biggest hurdle for the Lions to climb to make a playoff spot is making up 1.5 games on the Vikings in three weeks. Detroit will have an opportunity to make that number 0.5 next week when they face off at Ford Field, but a Week 15 win by the Dolphins would make that path a lot easier.

Of course, if the Lions were to catch the Vikings in the playoff race, that means Minnesota would jump them in draft order. If you don’t want that to happen, a Dolphins win is your preferred choice.

Titans (7-6) at Giants (5-8) — 1 p.m. ET — CBS

Who to root for (playoffs): Titans (IMPORTANT)
Who to root for (draft position): Giants

The Giants are basically in the same boat as the Lions. Their playoff odds are long, but if everything falls the right way, they could still get in. A Week 15 loss would essentially end their playoff chances, so that’s the preferred outcome.

But right now the Giants are just a spot behind the Lions in draft order. A New York win would likely keep them below Detroit for another week. Right now, they have the exact same strength of schedule, so it will be a tight race should the teams finish with the same record.

Washington (6-7) at Jaguars (4-9) — 1 p.m. ET — CBS

Who to root for (playoffs): Jaguars (IMPORTANT)
Who to root for (draft position): Jaguars

A nice marriage for #TeamTank and #TeamPlayoffDreamers. Washington is one of many teams the Lions have to jump in the standings and with the team on their 15th quarterback or whatever, that’s certainly possible against a bad and inconsistent Jaguars team.

Thankfully for draft fans, a Jaguars win could also push Detroit above them in draft order. The Lions have an easier schedule than them at the moment, so a Lions loss plus a Jaguars win would likely result in Detroit jumping ahead of them.

Buccaneers (5-8) at Ravens (7-6) — 1 p.m. ET - FOX

Who to root for (playoffs): Ravens (IMPORTANT)
Who to root for (draft position): Bucs

The Bucs are yet another team the Lions have to jump in the playoff standings. With only games against the Cowboys and Falcons remaining, there’s a small possibility they actually win out. A loss to Baltimore will sink their playoff chances for good.

But the Bucs are currently one spot ahead of the Lions in draft order. If Detroit is going to pick before them in the 2019 NFL Draft, Tampa needs to lose this game.

Seahawks (8-5) at 49ers (3-10) — 4:05 p.m. ET — FOX

Who to root for (playoffs): 49ers
Who to root for (draft position): 49ers

The only way this game really matters for playoffs is if the Lions find themselves in a weird three-way tie scenario that somehow works in their favor. Seattle can only finish tied with the Lions, and they already have the head-to-head tiebreaker. So don’t really pay attention to this game if you’re playoff hunting.

However, there’s still a small—very small—chance Detroit can catch the 49ers in draft order. Their schedule is brutally hard (Seahawks, Rams Bears), and they’d somehow need to win at least two of those. Yeah... this game doesn’t matter much.

Patriots (9-4) at Steelers (7-5-1) — 4:25 p.m. ET — CBS

Who to root for (playoffs): N/A
Who to root for (draft position): Steelers

AFC matchup, so no playoff implications. A Steelers collapse isn’t entirely out of the question, and a Pittsburgh wins makes them mathematically incapable of jumping Detroit in draft order.

Eagles (6-7) at Rams (11-2) — 8:20 p.m. ET — NBC

Who to root for (playoffs): Rams (IMPORTANT)
Who to root for (draft position): Eagles

In one of the most important games for Lions playoff chances, Detroit desperately needs the Eagles to lose at least one more games—more likely two. With the Texans and Washington looming, there’s no guarantee they lose again this season, so there can’t be any Nick Foles magic this week if Detroit is going to make a playoff run.

Of course, the Eagles have three of their last five, so they are very much in play for a top 10 draft pick. A win would give the Lions some cushion above them in the draft order.

Monday

Saints (11-2) at Panthers (6-7) — 8:15 p.m. ET — ESPN

Who to root for (playoffs): Saints (IMPORTANT)
Who to root for (draft position): Panthers

The Panthers are another team the Lions have to jump. Thankfully, they’re one team Detroit actually has the head-to-head on, so they really only need Carolina to lose one more (unless there’s a three-way tie scenario). They play the Saints twice, so either loss would help Detroit, but why not both?

Of course, if they lose both, that would make them prime contenders for a top 10 pick. A win would help Detroit stay ahead of them.

If everything goes the Lions way for playoffs...

Here’s what the NFC Wild Card race would look like:

  1. Seahawks: 8-6
  2. Vikings: 6-7-1
  3. Panthers: 6-8 (4-6 in conference)
  4. Eagles: 6-8 (4-7 in conference)
  5. Washington: 6-8 (6-5 in conference)
  6. Lions: 6-8 (3-7 in conference)
  7. Packer: 5-8-1
  8. Giants: 5-8
  9. Buccaneers: 5-8

The Lions remain pretty low on the totem pole because a win over the Bills wouldn’t improve their horrible conference record, but with opportunities against the Vikings and Packers looming, they could certainly help themselves out a little.