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Tuesday open thread: Is Thanksgiving a must-win game for Detroit Lions’ playoff hopes?

Do the Detroit Lions need to beat the Buffalo Bills to keep any realistic playoff hopes alive?

Buffalo Bills vs Cleveland Browns Photo by Jorge Lemus/NurPhoto via Getty Images

On Monday, John Whiticar posed the question of whether the Detroit Lions will make the playoffs after a three-game winning streak has drastically shifted the outlook of their season. While John ultimately concluded that the Lions will not, in fact, join the extremely rare company of teams who have gone from 1-6 to the postseason—a conclusion I currently agree with—I think we would both concede that our answers could change if the Lions pulled off a double-digit upset over the Buffalo Bills on Thursday.

Personally, I despise the word “must-win.” I think it’s an overused platitude that attempts to exaggerate stakes often done by overemotional writers. Anyone who even poses the “must-win game” in September or October is either being disingenuous or short-sighted.

But we’re not in September or October anymore. There’s barely any time left in November, in fact, and we’re still talking about Detroit Lions football and, yes, meaningful games. The Lions’ playoff odds remain long—17.7 percent according to Football Outsiders—but a win over the Bills at what should be a rowdy Ford Field could swing their fortunes drastically.

A loss would drop the Lions to 4-7, thinning their margin of victory over the final six games to a point of unrealism. So today’s Question of the Day is:

Is Thursday’s game a must-win for the Lions’ playoff hopes?

My answer: The only way this is truly a must-win game for the Lions is if you believe the Lions need to win out to make the playoffs. And, given how the NFC has been this year, I don’t think the Lions absolutely have to go 11-6 to make the playoffs. I think 10-7 gets them there, and I think there’s a pretty good chance 9-8 punches their ticket, too. Last year, 9-8 was good enough to make the playoffs in the NFC, while the 9-7-1 Steelers got the final AFC playoff spot.

So, no. Thursday is not a must-win game.


A win would be absolutely huge. Not only would the win push Detroit to 5-6—potentially within a game of the final Wild Card spot, but it gives the Lions some wiggle room in what should be the easiest part of the schedule. Even including the Bills game, the Lions have the ninth-easiest remaining schedule according to Football Outsiders. Beat the Bills, and the Lions may theoretically only need to go 4-2 against the following opponents:

  • Home vs. Jaguars (3-7)
  • Home vs. Vikings (8-2)
  • Away vs. Jets (6-4)
  • Away vs. Panthers (3-8)
  • Home vs. Bears (3-8)
  • Away vs. Packers (4-7)

So if the Lions were to win on Thanksgiving, they would just take care of business against the teams with losing records—something they’ve done all season thus far—and they’d have a very, very realistic chance at the postseason.

And if they lose... we’ll they’d have to turn that final stretch into a 5-1 record, at least. But is it a complete pipe dream to believe the Lions could win their games against the losing teams and steal a game from a Jets team currently in a quarterback crisis or a Vikings team they came damn close to beating on the road?

I say continue to dream no matter what happens on Thursday.

Your turn.


Is Thursday’s game against the Bills a must-win game for the Lions’ playoff chances?

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