A week ago, I asked Detroit Lions fans to decide the fate of our 2020 Rooting Guide. With a win over the Chicago Bears last week—combined with a Cardinals loss—the Lions became just a game out of the final wild card spot this week. Combine that with a renewed sense of optimism in the form of interim head coach Darrell Bevell, and y’all wanted to talk playoffs. Don’t worry, for the other 36 percent of you, we’ll be doing a second rooting guide later in the day that focuses on draft position.
But for now, here are the best possible outcomes for Week 14 to get Detroit into that playoff spot.
Texans (4-8) at Bears (5-7) — 1 p.m. ET — CBS
Who to root for: Texans
Always root AFC over NFC when it comes to playoffs, and this one could be important. Though the Bears are also on the downslide, their remaining schedule is quite easy (Texans, Vikings, Jaguars, Packers). Perhaps the reason they haven’t fired everyone yet is because they want to be absolutely certain Chicago doesn’t slide into the playoffs.
Cardinals (6-6) at Giants (5-7) — 1 p.m. ET — FOX
Who to root for: Giants
This is one of the most important games of the week. Despite having an identical record as the Lions, a win for the Giants doesn’t hurt Detroit much, as they are the current division leaders of the NFC East and not (currently) in the wild card hunt.
The Cardinals, however, are a key team the Lions will need to jump at one point. Their schedule, too, is quite easy (Giants, Eagles, 49ers, Rams), so let’s start stacking some losses. The Lions have the head-to-head tiebreaker over Arizona, so one more loss may be enough.
Vikings (6-6) at Buccaneers (7-5) — 1 p.m. ET — FOX
Who to root for: Buccaneers
A loss for either team helps the Lions out, but we’re just looking for that seven seed. No need to get greedy and look higher than that. The Lions still have games remaining against both of these teams, so they’ll be able to help themselves out.
However, with a Vikings loss this week (and a Lions win), Detroit will be able to hold their own destiny with Minnesota, who currently holds that final playoff spot.
Jets (0-12) at Seahawks (8-4) — 4:05 p.m. ET — CBS
Who to root for: Jets
Okay, let’s get a little greedy here. The Lions are almost certainly not going to catch the Seahawks—especially with Seattle’s remaining games against the Jets, Football Team and 49ers—but they haven’t exactly looked the best over the past month. Maybe a miracle happens Sunday, and a small beacon of hope opens up.
Football Team (5-7) at 49ers (5-7) — 4:25 p.m. ET — FOX
Who to root for: Football Team
This is another game where it’s just good that one of these teams will be getting a loss. It will be better if Washington wins, and it’s actually by a significant margin. Per the New York Times’ “The Upshot,” this game has the potential to increase Detroit’s playoff chances by three percentage points (given the previous four outcomes) with a Washington win.
The reasoning is pretty simple. The Lions have the tiebreaker over Washington. They don’t over the 49ers.
If all these things happen...
Here’s how the wild card race would look:
Division leaders: Saints, Rams, Packers, Giants
- Seahawks (8-5)
- Buccaneers (8-5)
- Cardinals (6-7)
- Vikings (6-7)
- Washington (6-7)
- Lions (6-7)
- Bears (5-8)
The first and second wild card spots are tougher to grab, but that third wild card is within striking distance. Detroit is actually tied with four teams for that last spot, but the tiebreakers have that at the bottom.
Let’s work through some theoretical tiebreakers. The first step is to take the four tied teams and make apply the divisional tiebreaker when necessary. Since the Vikings and Lions are the only teams in the same division, you have to eliminate one of those teams. The Vikings currently hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Lions, so Detroit is the lowest-seeded 6-7 team, despite having wins over both the Cardinals and Washington. However, the Lions will have their chance to even things up with Minnesota later, so that’s could all change in the future.
Between the Cardinals, Vikings and Washington, all three of them would have 4-5 records in the division, so then it would go to win percentage in common games. I am not going through the trouble of calculating that, so I’m just trusting the ESPN playoff machine to be spitting out the right team in Arizona.
Let’s get back to Detroit. The Lions’ playoff chances skyrocket with these results. Currently, “The Upshot” has the Lions with about a six percent chance of making the playoffs. With these five outcomes on Sunday plus a Lions win over the Packers, those odds jump to about 20 percent.