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Detroit Lions Week 17 rooting guide: How Lions can gain control of own playoff destiny

The Lions could be in a “win-and-you’re-in” playoff scenario for Week 18 if these things happen on Sunday.

NFL: DEC 04 Jaguars at Lions Photo by Steven King/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Detroit Lions are still very much in the playoff hunt as we approach Week 17 in the NFL. After last week’s loss to the Carolina Panthers, they’re going to need some help along the way, but everything that needs to happen certainly feels within the realm of possibilities. We’re not talking microscopic postseason odds here, so it’s time to get our rooting on.

If everything falls the right way for the Lions on Sunday, they could, in fact, find themselves in a playoff spot heading into the final week of the season. But before we get into how each game needs to fall, here’s a look at where the NFC playoff picture stands right now:

Division leaders:

  1. Eagles: 13-2 — clinched playoff spot
  2. Vikings: 12-3 — clinched NFC North
  3. 49ers: 11-4 — clinched NFC West
  4. Buccaneers: 7-8

Wild Card race (top 3 advance)

  1. Cowboys: 12-4 — clinched playoff spot
  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

Here are the teams the Lions should be rooting for in Week 17.

Colts (4-10-1) at Giants (8-6-1) — 1 p.m. ET — CBS

Root for: Colts

This is a relatively low priority game, as the only way the Lions catch the Giants is if New York loses out and the Lions win out. Still, it’s best to keep all options on the table and have as many clinching scenarios as possible. And if the Giants somehow lose this game—as 5.5-point favorites—losing next week to an Eagles team potentially resting starters is still on the table.

Saints (6-9) at Eagles (13-2) — 1 p.m. ET — FOX

Root for: Saints

It may seem counterintuitive to root for a team who could theoretically catch Detroit for a Wild Card spot, but that’s only if the Lions lose one of their two remaining games. The fact of the matter is that if Detroit loses one more game, their playoff odds are so small that it’s not even worth considering those scenarios.

Instead, root for the Eagles to lose, so that in Week 18 the NFC East—and the NFC’s No. 1 seed—may still be up for grabs. That would mean that Philly has a reason to play the Giants hard, and the Cowboys would have a reason to beat the Commanders in Week 18.

Panthers (6-9) at Buccaneers (7-8) — 1 p.m. ET — FOX

Root for: Buccaneers

Again, we’re dealing in tiny percentages here, as the Panthers only catch the Lions if Detroit loses another game. But both out of spite and because Carolina now has the tiebreaker, root for the Bucs.

Browns (6-9) at Commanders (7-7-1) — 1 p.m. ET — FOX

Root for: Browns

This is the second-most important game of the day for the Lions. The Browns are eliminated from playoff contention, but they’re likely still playing for pride and to see what they can build with Deshaun Watson. However, with the Commanders potentially playing a meaningless game for the Cowboys next week, Detroit needs Washington to lose RIGHT NOW. According to FiveThirtyEight, the Lions’ playoff odds go from 24 to 29 percent with just a Commanders loss this week. Throw in a Lions win, and that jumps to 37 percent.

Jets (7-8) at Seahawks (7-8) — 4:05 p.m. ET — FOX

Root for: Jets

This is the most important game of the day for Lions fans. A Seahawks loss bumps the Lions’ playoff odds from 24 to 33 percent alone. Thankfully, the Jets are still very much playing for a playoff spot, and they’ll have quarterback Mike White back this week. Playing in Seattle isn’t the challenge it used to be, as the Seahawks have lost four straight home games.

Vikings (12-3) at Packers (7-8) — 4:25 p.m. ET — CBS

Root for: Vikings

While this doesn’t have a huge impact on the Lions’ playoff odds this week, a Vikings win would set things up nicely for Detroit next week for several reasons:

  1. A Vikings win + a Lions win means the Packers are eliminated from playoff contention, which is both fun and would mean Green Bay has less motivation to try and beat the Lions in Week 18.
  2. A Vikings win + an Eagles loss would keep the No. 1 seed in play, and motivate Philly to beat the Commanders in Week 18.

If the Packers win, it’s not the end of the world, because the Lions could simply beat them next week to stay above them in the standings. But that would be much easier said than done.

If all of these outcomes fall Detroit’s way—and the Lions beat the Bears—here’s what the playoff picture would look like:

Division leaders:

  1. Eagles: 13-3 — clinched playoff spot
  2. Vikings: 13-3 — clinched NFC North
  3. 49ers: 11-4 — clinched NFC West
  4. Buccaneers: 8-8 — clinched NFC South

Wild Card race (top 3 advance)

  1. Cowboys: 12-4 — clinched playoff spot
  2. Giants: 8-7-1
  3. Lions: 8-8
  4. Commanders: 7-8-1
  5. Seahawks: 7-9
  6. Saints: 7-9
  7. Packers: 7-9 — eliminated
  8. Panthers: 6-10 — eliminated

Not only would the Lions be in a playoff spot, but according to FiveThirtyEight, their odds to make the postseason would jump to 61 percent. They’d be set up for a “win-and-you’re-in” game in Lambeau, and would even have some outs if they lose that game.

But it doesn’t have to be that perfect. In order for the Lions to simply be in a “win-and-you’re-in” scenario in Week 18, they only need three outcomes this week:

  • Lions beat Bears
  • Browns beat Commanders
  • Jets beat Seahawks

Focus your rooting mojo on those games.

Rooting for draft position

The Lions slipped a few spots after the Rams picked up another win against the Broncos, but there is still hope for a top-five pick. Here’s what you should root for this week:

Cardinals (4-11) over Falcons (5-10)
Broncos (4-11) over Chiefs (12-3)
Colts (4-10-1) over Giants (8-6-1)
Saints (6-9) over Eagles (13-2)
Panthers (6-9) over Bucs (7-8)
Browns (6-9) over Commanders (7-7-1)
Raiders (6-9) over 49ers (11-4)
Chargers (9-6) over Rams (5-10)

If all of that happens, here’s what the new draft order would look like:

Note: Strength of schedule numbers—the primary tiebreaker—are taken from Tankathon and are subject to change based on this week’s results. Also, I gave the Bears a loss and didn’t give the Texans anything, because the Rams/Lions can’t catch them.

  1. Texans: 2-12-1 (.488 strength of schedule)
  2. Bears: 3-13 (.568)
  3. Falcons: 5-11 (.465)
  4. Broncos (owned by Seahawks): 5-11 (.488)
  5. Rams: 5-11 (.508)
  6. Cardinals: 5-11 (.522)
  7. Colts: 5-10-1 (.508)
  8. Raiders: 7-9 (.461)
  9. Buccaneers: 7-9 (.492)
  10. Saints (owned by Eagles): 7-9 (.502)
  11. Titans: 7-9 (.508)
  12. Browns (owned by Texans): 7-9 (.522)

Note: I didn’t bother with some other 7-8 teams, because if the Rams lose to the Chargers, 7-9 teams won’t be able to catch them. However, it could change the order at the bottom of the top 10.

If things play out this way, the Rams’ pick would be guaranteed to be, at worst, seven. With some Week 18 luck, it could theoretically jump back into the top three. Of course, many of these outcomes are highly unlikely, but it’s still mathematically possible.

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