If the Detroit Lions had beaten the Carolina Panthers on Saturday, not only would they currently be in a playoff position, but we’d be talking this Monday morning about ways they could clinch a playoff spot by New Year’s Day.
Unfortunately, with their humiliating loss, we have to address the exact opposite scenario this week. Not only are there zero clinching opportunities for the Lions in Week 17, but they could very well get eliminated from playoff contention if they aren’t careful.
Before we get into those scenarios, here’s what the NFC Playoff picture looks like heading into Week 17:
- Eagles: 13-2 — clinched playoff spot
- Vikings: 12-3 — clinched NFC North
- 49ers: 11-4 — clinched NFC West
- Buccaneers: 7-8
Wild Card race (top three advance)
- Cowboys: 11-4 — clinched playoff spot
- Giants: 8-6-1
- Commanders: 7-7-1
- Seahawks: 7-8
- Lions: 7-8
- Packers: 7-8
- Panthers: 6-9
- Saints: 6-9
The Lions remain just a half-game out of a playoff spot, but with now only two weeks to make up for it. They cannot afford to fall another game behind either of the two teams between them in a playoff spot, so there are two Week 17 playoff elimination scenarios for the Lions:
The Lions would be eliminated from playoff contention this week if:
- Lions lose to the Bears AND
- Commanders beat the Browns
If the Lions fall to 7-9, they cannot mathematically catch the 8-6-1 Giants nor the (theoretical) 8-7-1 Commanders. Game over.
One may think that if the Lions lose and the Seahawks win, Detroit would be eliminated, as Seattle would be one game (8-8) ahead of the Lions (7-9) with a head-to-head tiebreaker. However, there would remain an unlikely possibility that the Lions, Seahawks, and either the Panthers or Saints (or Buccaneers) all finish with an 8-9 record. And a three (or four) way tie between the Lions, Seahawks, and another team would necessitate a different set of tiebreakers. Head-to-head only matters in a three-way tie if one team has beaten the other two (or if one team lost two to both teams involved in the tie).
So in order for the Lions to get eliminated by a Seahawks win, they would need a three-way tie at 8-9 to be no longer possible. Even if the Panthers and Saints both lose—making 8-9 no longer a possibility for each team—a three-way tie is still possible between the Lions, Seahawks, and Commanders if Washington loses a game and ties another (7-8-2 is basically the same thing as 8-9). So as long as the Commanders don’t win this week, the Lions cannot be eliminated.
If Detroit simply beats the Bears at home on Sunday (or the Commanders don’t win), they will still be fighting for a playoff spot in the final week of the season with a big game against the Green Bay Packers looming. The Packers could similarly be eliminated from playoff contention this week if they lose to the Vikings and either the Commanders or Lions win this week.