When I told our editor Jeremy that I planned to write this, he said, “lol oh Mike.” A pretty typical response I get from him when I do that crazy optimistic thing that I so frequently do. But like I told him, this piece is mostly just for the knowledge sake with a hint of optimism. I truly don’t believe any of this will happen, but I believe it could. You know what I’m saying?
The Lions are 4-8. Normally this means it’s the end of the season, right? Well here’s the thing, the rest of the NFC sucks too. There really aren’t any teams outside of the Saints and Rams that are separating themselves from the crowd right now. For that reason, the Lions are still in the race. They’re hanging on by their fingertips, but they’re still in the race.
But a lot needs to happen. I mean a lot. So here’s what needs to happen to each team and how it could. But probably won’t.
The Lions (4-8)
First off—and probably the hardest—the Lions need to win out. You’d like to think they can handle the Bills and the Cardinals, but this is the 2018 season and Detroit is unlikely to make it out of this thing without an embarrassing loss to a team they should beat. They then have to face the Vikings, a team that beat them already. Then the Packers, a team they’ve beat three times in a row, but they have to again find a way to win in a place they so rarely win in. If the Lions lose one of these games, it’s over.
The Lions need to not only beat the Vikings, they need the Vikings to only win one more game. That is asking for a lot, but it is possible. The Vikings have to play the Lions at home, A very good Seahawks team at home and then the Bears in Minnesota. They also welcome the Dolphins to town, too, but that’s likely their win. So the Lions need the Vikings to lose three games. That’s going to be very hard.
Dallas is another team that has the tiebreaker over the Lions. If Detroit wants to jump them in the standings, Dallas has to go worse than 8-8, since they have the head-to-head tiebreaker. It’s hard to tell if this team is good. One week they beat the Saints. Another week they get destroyed by the Titans. This team is going to be a real problem for the Lions. They’ve won four straight and don’t have the hardest remaining schedule.
And Redskins (6-6)
There’s an alternative way in, and it’s probably the more likely scenario: The Cowboys keep winning and run away with the division.
In that case, the Lions would need both the Redskins and the Eagles to go 7-9 at best. That’s also not going to be easy, but it certainly is within the realm of possibilities.
The Eagles still have to play the Cowboys in Dallas, the Rams in Los Angeles and the Redskins in Washington. They also play the 9-3 Texans in Philly. At 6-6 currently, it’s possible they lose three of their final four. Although they are the defending Super Bowl champions, so they could just as well win all those games instead.
As for the Redskins, they play the Giants, Jaguars, Titans and Eagles. Seems easy enough, right? Well they also have to do that with third-string quarterback Mark Sanchez, and they’re riding a three-game losing streak right now. So this one is very possible.
The Panthers (6-6)
Finally, a team that the Lions have the tiebreaker over. But it’s yet another team that has a two-game lead over the Lions with only four games left. Oh man, this is going to be impossible... Or is it?
You see kids, the Panthers are kind of bad right now. Usually when you start firing coordinators with four games to go, it’s not a good sign that you’re going to win out and make the playoffs.
The Panthers are 6-6 and haven’t won a game since November 4. They also don’t have an easy remaining schedule. They have to play the Saints twice, the Falcons and the Browns. Both those Saints games should be losses. As long as no other NFC Wild Card teams are 8-8, that’s all Detroit would need to jump the Panthers in the standings, but it would help Detroit if they could get a little help from the Falcons (as long as Atlanta doesn’t finish 8-8) or get their troubled brothers from Cleveland to do them a real solid here. Maybe just both for good measure.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-7)
The Bucs have one of the toughest remaining schedules. Their final four opponents have a collective record of 28-20, and Detroit needs them to lose just two games. That doesn’t seem too much to ask for, considering the Lions also benefit from the Saints beating the snot out of every other NFC team and the Cowboys running away with the NFC East.
So that’s it. Pretty easy right... or who am I kidding? This is probably not going to happen. There are some other crazy scenarios out there, and technically the Lions don’t have to pass all of these teams—there are two Wild Card spots—but the road is still wildly improbable.
Can anyone remember the last time a 4-8 team rebounded and made the playoffs? It was 10 years ago when the Chargers won their last four games and squeaked into the postseason. Can the Lions be the next to do it?