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NFC playoff picture: Detroit Lions just 1.5 games out of Wild Card spot

The Detroit Lions are no longer comically “In The Race” for a playoff spot. They’re actually in the competition.

NFL: Detroit Lions at New York Giants Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

After winning three games in a row, the Detroit Lions have gone from legitimate contender for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft to not-so-crazy Wild Card contender. For the past couple weeks, we’ve played around with the idea, mostly in jest or at least recognizing that the odds are extremely long.

But with a mediocre set of NFC teams and a Lions team that is playing some sound football right now, this has become far less of a joke now. And if everything goes as hoped on “Monday Night Football” the Lions could find themselves just 1.5 games out of a playoff spot with nearly a half-season of football left to go.

Here’s a look at the updated playoff picture through Week 11 (not including “Monday Night Football”)

Division leaders:

  1. Philadelphia Eagles (9-1)
  2. Minnesota Vikings (8-2)
  3. Seattle Seahawks (6-4)
  4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-5)

Wild Card race (top three spots win playoff spot)

  1. Dallas Cowboys (7-3)
  2. New York Giants (7-3)
  3. San Francisco 49ers (5-4)
  4. Washington Commanders (6-5)
  5. Atlanta Falcons (5-6)
  6. Detroit Lions (4-6)
  7. Arizona Cardinals (4-6)

There are just three teams in between the Lions and a playoff spot as things currently stand. If the 49ers lose to the Cardinals on Monday night, the Lions will drop one spot in the standings, but they’ll be just a 1.5 games out of the final Wild Card spot, trailing the 6-5 Commanders.

But here’s the thing: the Lions have the tiebreaker over the Commanders after beating them in Week 2. They also have the tiebreaker over the Giants, should New York take a tumble the rest of the way. Among Wild Card contenders, only the Cowboys have a direct tiebreaker over the Lions after beating Detroit in Week 7.

The Lions are also in pretty good shape when it comes to other tiebreakers. For teams that have not had a head-to-head game, the primary tiebreaker is conference record. Here’s where the seven Wild Card teams currently stand in divisional records:

  1. Cowboys: 6-3
  2. 49ers: 4-2
  3. Lions: 4-4
  4. Falcons: 4-4
  5. Giants: 3-3
  6. Commanders: 3-4
  7. Cardinals: 3-5

Detroit is probably not going to catch the Cowboys, both because they’re probably the most legit Wild Card and because they hold the key tiebreakers over Detroit. It may hurt, but it’s in Detroit’s best interest for them to keep winning, especially in their upcoming divisional games against the Giants and Commanders—two teams they’ve already beaten once.

Let’s take a quick look at the divisional race, while we’re at it:

  1. Minnesota Vikings (8-2)
  2. Detroit Lions (4-6)
  3. Green Bay Packers (4-7)
  4. Chicago Bears (3-8)

The Lions are four games back of the Vikings with seven games left to play, and Minnesota currently holds the tiebreaker over Detroit. Obviously, the Lions can even that tiebreaker and cut into the lead with their head-to-head matchup remaining, but the NFC North seems like it’s already set. The Vikes still have games against the Colts, Bears, and Packers, although those two divisional games are on the road. Still, it would take an epic meltdown for Minnesota to lose grasp on the division.

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