The Detroit Lions are one of the hottest teams in the NFL. They’re 5-1 in their last six games, and in their one loss, they held a late lead against the Buffalo Bills—the AFC’s current No. 1 seed.
Unfortunately, though, the Lions’ 1-6 start to the season has put them in a huge hole. At this point, playoff chances remain somewhat long. But with a favorable schedule ahead—fifth easiest per Football Outsiders—the Lions have a very real chance to run the table. That won’t be enough to guarantee them a playoff spot, but a 10-7 record seems likely to get them into the dance.
However, what if the Lions slip up? They may be playing good football right now, but it’s hard for any NFL team to win six in a row, let alone nine of their last 10 games. Sometimes the ball doesn’t bounce your way. Sometimes you have a letdown game. Sometimes an underdog just has everything going their way on a random Sunday.
Could the Lions still make the playoffs going 3-1 down the stretch and finishing with a 9-8 record?
Let’s look at some probability models to see how likely the Lions playoffs chances are right now, and how they’ll change with different results in the final four weeks.
Odds to make the playoffs: 20%
Odds of winning the division: 0.2%
The cool thing about FiveThirtyEight’s model is that they will adjust playoff odds if you play around with future outcomes. For example: if the Lions go 4-0 down the stretch, they have a 91 percent chance of making the playoffs. If they go 3-1 (with a loss to the Jets), that drops down to 43 percent. If that loss comes against an NFC team, their odds fall somewhere between 36 and 41 percent, depending on the opponent.
You can play around with their probability model here.
Odds to make the playoffs: 20.7% (up 10.7%)
Odds to win the division: 0.4%
I like Football Outsiders’ playoff odds the most, because they use DVOA to measure a team’s value and therefore predict more accurate results for games. Unfortunately, they do not have a feature to adjust playoff odds based on future outcomes. I think this paints a pretty good picture of where the Lions stand right now, though. Essentially, they’ve got a 1-in-5 chance to make the playoffs, and that feels about right.
New York Times
Odds to make the playoffs: 14%
Odds to win the division: <1%
Like FiveThirtyEight, the Times has an interactive site that allows you to choose future outcomes and adjusts playoff odds accordingly. Here’s what it says about the Lions’ chances:
4-0 finish: 93% chance at playoffs
3-1 finish: 34-40% chance at playoffs (depending on who the loss comes against)
Ods to make the playoffs: 19%
Odds to win the division: <1%
This site has overall odds pretty much in line with everyone else. And while they don’t have an interactive outcomes site, they have a very simple chart that lists the team’s playoff odds depending on how many games the Lions win. Here’s those results:
- 4-0 finish: 85% chance at playoffs
- 3-1 finish: 30% chance at playoffs
- 2-2 finish: 1% chance at playoffs
So the conclusion here seems to be that while the Lions don’t officially control their own destiny, it would take an awful string of bad luck for a 10-7 team to miss the playoffs. If they lose even one game the rest of the way, the odds are not in their favor, but it’s certainly not out of the question, either.
As I outlined in this week’s playoff picture, continue to root against the Seahawks, Giants and Commanders.