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NFC playoff picture: How Lions, Vikings can team up to eliminate Packers in Week 17

The Green Bay Packers could be out of the playoffs by Sunday night if the Lions and Vikings team up.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

For the past couple months, the Detroit Lions have been the NFL’s cinderella story. At 1-6, the Lions’ playoff chances were holding below one percent, but after a 6-1 run, they were hovering around 40 percent headed into Christmas weekend. After they blew Saturday’s game against the Carolina Panthers, a new come-from-behind story is emerging, and it’s one no one in Detroit wants to see.

Just a few weeks ago, the Green Bay Packers were 4-8, and everyone had declared their season dead. Since then, though, just about everything has fallen the Packers’ way. The Commanders are 0-2-1 in their last three. The Seahawks are amidst a 1-4 stretch. Even the Giants are just 1-4-1 in their last six. Combine that with a three-game winning streak for the Packers, and a team that entered Week 16 with just a seven percent chance at the playoffs is now up to 27 percent, per FiveThirtyEight — higher than the Lions’ 24 percent.

But Green Bay’s playoff odds could drop all the way to zero percent by the end of this week. Before we get into those scenarios, here’s a reminder at what the NFC Playoff picture looks like:

Division leaders:

  1. Eagles: 13-2
  2. Vikings: 12-3
  3. 49ers: 11-4
  4. Buccaneers: 7-8

Wild Card (top three advance)

  1. Cowboys: 11-4
  2. Giants: 8-6-1
  3. Commanders: 7-7-1
  4. Seahawks: 7-8
  5. Lions: 7-8
  6. Packers: 7-8
  7. Panthers: 6-9
  8. Saints: 6-9

The Packers and Lions are tied in record, but Detroit currently holds the tiebreaker over them due to their head-to-head victory. While that tiebreaker could change in Week 18 with the Lions and Packers playing each other, Detroit still has an opportunity to bury the Packers before they even take the field in the finale.

If Green Bay loses to the Vikings this week in Lambeau and the Lions beat the Bears at home, the Packers will be eliminated from playoff contention. Here’s why:

A loss for the Packers would drop them to 7-9, meaning they would no longer be able to mathematically catch the Giants’ current 8.5 wins. That leaves Green Bay with just one more playoff spot available to them. But they wouldn’t be able to catch the Lions.

Even though the Packers could beat the Lions in Week 18, drawing each team’s record to 8-9 and evening up the season series, the Lions would still hold the tiebreaker. Because in this scenario, the next tiebreaker is record in the division, and the Lions would hold a 4-2 record in the NFC North vs. the Packers’ 3-3.

Even if the Lions and Packers find their way in a three-way tie with another team at 8-9, NFL Playoff tiebreaker rules necessitate that when there is a three-way tie with two teams from the same division, those divisional teams must face off in a divisional tiebreaker before bringing in the third team.

And here’s the good news: the Vikings still have a lot to play for despite already clinching the NFC North. Even though they lost to the Eagles, there is an outside chance the Vikings could still clinch the No. 1 see in the NFC if they win out and the Eagles lose out. Additionally, they’ve got the San Francisco 49ers hot on their tail to jump into the two seed, so they’ll have to keep winning to hold that second seed. That could be the difference between home and away in further rounds of the playoffs.

The Packers have dominated the NFC North for far too long, and I’m sure the fanbases of the Lions and Vikings would be more than happy to see their comeback story meet an early end this Sunday.

Note: The Packers would also be eliminated with the following scenarios:

  • Packers lose to Vikings AND Commanders beat Browns
  • Packers tie Vikings AND Commanders beat Browns AND Jets beat Seahawks
  • Packers lose to Vikings AND Commanders tie Browns, AND Eagles beat Saints AND Jets beat Seahawks