The Detroit Lions have a pretty darn good chance to make the playoffs if they just win out. As pointed out in this post, they have over a 90 percent chance to make the postseason if they just win out. That said, their playoff destiny isn’t quite in their own hands, and if they slip up once in the final four games, they’re going to need some help.
That help can start on Thursday night, when the 7-6 Seattle Seahawks host the 9-4 San Francisco 49ers. With a win, the 49ers can clinch the NFC West, making them essentially irrelevant for the Lions playoff odds, as Detroit is eyeing a Wild Card spot, instead.
That’s where the Seattle Seahawks come into play. Seattle is just a single game above the Lions in the playoff hunt, but with the head-to-head tiebreaker, that is essentially a two-game lead on Detroit. Here’s a closer look at the NFC Wild Card race to further illustrate the point:
NFC Wild Card race (top three advance)
- Cowboys (10-3)
- Commanders (7-5-1)
- Giants (7-5-1)
- Seahawks (7-6)
- Lions (6-7)
- Packers, Panthers, Falcons all 5-8
Both the Lions and the Seahawks are currently out of a playoff position, but with the Commanders and Giants playing later this week, it’s an opportunity for both teams to gain ground—or in Seattle’s case, an opportunity to jump into a playoff spot.
The Lions need to jump two teams, and with the Cowboys out of reach, Detroit’s three options are the Commanders, Giants, and Seahawks. With that pesky tie, all three teams essentially hold a two-game lead over Detroit.
But Seattle may be the easiest team for the Lions to close the gap on. They have the seventh-hardest schedule left per Football Outsiders, and that begins with Thursday’s matchup against the 49ers. Here’s a look at their final four games:
- vs. 49ers (9-4)
- at Chiefs (10-3)
- vs. Jets (7-5)
- vs. Rams (4-9)
If Seattle beats the 49ers, it’s harder to find two more losses for the Seahawks down the stretch, though it’s certainly possible. After all, they just lost to the 5-8 Carolina Panthers.
If you’re more of a mathematical person, here’s how the Lions’ playoff odds change based on a couple different probability models.
- Current Lions playoff odds: 20%
- Odds if 49ers win: 24%
- Odds if Seahawks win: 15%
- Current Lions playoff odds: 14%
- Odds if 49ers win: 17%
- Odds if Seahawks win: 9%
In essence, the Lions don’t gain a lot of percentage points with a 49ers win, but they stand to lose a lot of possible outcomes if the Seahawks win. That difference is almost 10 full percentage points, which is pretty darn statistically significant.
So, go 49ers!