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NFC North playoff picture: Detroit Lions Magic Number could be 1 by end of Saturday

The NFC North is there for the Detroit Lions to take. In this updated NFC playoff picture, we explore how the Lions could be a single win away from clinching the division by the end of Saturday.

Green Bay Packers v Detroit Lions Photo by Lauren Leigh Bacho/Getty Images

The Detroit Lions are nearing their first divisional title in 30 years. They currently hold a two-game lead over the Minnesota Vikings and a three-game lead over the Green Bay Packers with only four weeks of the regular season left.

On Saturday, both the Lions and Vikings are in action, and by the end of the night, the Lions could be on the verge of clinching the NFC North with just one more outcome necessary in the remaining three weeks.

Before we get into it, here’s a reminder of what the NFC North looks like through Week 14:

  1. Detroit Lions: 9-4
  2. Minnesota Vikings: 7-6
  3. Green Bay Packers: 6-7
  4. Chicago Bears: 5-8

The Lions’ Magic Number (the number of wins + opponent losses required to clinch the NFC North) is currently three. For example, if the Lions win three games—pushing their total to 12 wins—the Vikings can’t catch them. If they get to 11 wins, the Packers can’t catch them. If they get to 10 wins, the Bears can’t catch them.

But that magic number could be all the way down to one by the end of the night.

First up:

Vikings (7-6) at Bengals (7-6) — 1 p.m. ET — NFL Network

The Vikings are three-point underdogs to the Bengals. Both teams are still in the fight for a playoff berth despite the fact that both have lost their starting quarterbacks for the season. Minnesota is starting Nick Mullens for the first time this week after the Joshua Dobbs experiment finally reached its conclusion. Mullens will likely have Justin Jefferson in the game, despite suffering a chest injury in his return to the lineup last week. The Vikings defense has carried them, though, and could be key against Bengals quarterback Jake Browning.

That said, after being declared dead following the Joe Burrow injury, the Bengals have picked up two consecutive wins against playoff-contending teams (Jaguars and Colts).

Root for the Bengals to move the Vikings back to 7-7 and cap their maximum wins on the season at 10.

Broncos (7-6) at Lions (9-4) — 8:15 p.m. ET — NFL Network (FOX locally)

Obviously, we’re rooting for the Lions, who are 4.5-point favorites.

Updated playoff look

If these two outcomes happen—and both are currently favored to happen—then here’s what the NFC North would look like going into Sunday:

  1. Detroit Lions: 10-4
  2. Minnesota Vikings: 7-7
  3. Green Bay Packers: 6-7
  4. Chicago Bears: 5-8

With both the Vikings and the Packers capped out at 10 potential wins, all it would take is one more Lions victory in the final three games to clinch the division. Even if the Lions were to get skunked in the final three games, the only way the Lions would lose the division is if either the Packers and Vikings won out. Let’s take a look at their remaining schedules:


  • vs. Lions (9-4)
  • vs. Packers (6-7)
  • at Lions (9-4)


  • vs. Buccaneers (6-7)
  • at Panthers (1-12)
  • at Vikings (7-6)
  • vs. Bears (5-8)

While one of those teams could win out (obviously both can’t with the head-to-head matchup), it seems unlikely given how each team is playing right now.

In other words, if the Lions win and the Vikings lose on Saturday, Detroit’s divisional title would be near a lock. In fact, according to the New York Times playoff simulator, if those two outcomes happen, Detroit’s NFC North odds jump from 87% all the way to 94%

In addition to reducing the Lions’ divisional magic number to 1, these two outcomes would nearly guarantee a playoff spot. Their playoff odds would jump to beyond 99%, and it would also open up the opportunity for Detroit to clinch a playoff spot by the end of the week.

If you look back at all the playoff-clinching scenarios for the Lions this week, a Lions win and a Vikings loss are two legs of three separate scenarios for Detroit to clinch. All Detroit would need to punch their ticket is either:

  1. Seahawks (6-7) lose to Eagles (10-3) on Monday night; OR
  2. Buccaneers (6-7) lose to Packers (6-7) AND Rams (6-7) lose to Commaners (4-9); OR
  3. Falcons (6-7) lose to Panthers (1-12) AND Rams (6-7) lose to Commaners (4-9)

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After winning their first NFC North title in 30 years, the Lions have unfinished business this offseason. Stay updated with Jeremy Reisman through Pride of Detroit Direct, our newsletter offering up exclusive analysis. Sign up with NFCNORTH30 to get 30% off after your free trial.