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Detroit Lions rooting guide: Updated playoff clinching scenarios

An updated look at the Detroit Lions playoff clinching scenarios—and who fans should root for on Sunday.

NFL: Denver Broncos at Detroit Lions David Reginek-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Lions got themselves a ton of help on Saturday in their quest for a playoff and divisional berth. First, the Minnesota Vikings dropped a ridiculous game against the Cincinnati Bengals. Then, the Lions took care of their own business with a statement win over the Denver Broncos. After those two outcomes, here’s a reminder of where the NFC North stands through Saturday.

  1. Lions: 10-4
  2. Vikings: 7-7
  3. Packers: 6-7
  4. Bears: 5-8

The Lions hold a three-game lead over the Vikings, a 3.5-game lead over the Packers, and the Bears can no longer mathematically win the NFC North this year. As we’ve pointed out earlier this weekend, the Lions can now clinch the division with just one win in their remaining three games OR a loss from both the Packers and Vikings at any point.

Beyond that, the Lions can clinch a playoff spot this week. Here are Detroit’s remaining four playoff-clinching scenarios:

  1. Seahawks loss/tie
  2. Buccaneers loss/tie + Rams loss/tie
  3. Falcons loss/tie + Rams loss/tie
  4. Packers/Bucs tie + Rams loss/tie

With that in mind, here is your Sunday/Monday Week 15 Detroit Lions rooting guide:

Buccaneers (6-7) at Packers (6-7) — 1 p.m. ET — CBS

Technically, a Buccaneers loss opens up an additional opportunity for the Lions to clinch a playoff spot on Sunday (scenario 2). However, the Lions are going to make the playoffs. It’s only a matter of time.

So, in my opinion, let’s root for the Packers to get the heck out of the playoff race entirely. A Green Bay loss means they would no longer be able to mathematically win the division, and it would be a crushing blow to their playoff odds. Per the NYT playoff simulator, their odds at a postseason appearance would drop from 48 percent to about 26 percent. A win vaults them to 63 percent.

Technically a tie is the best (and most hilarious) outcome, as it opens up options 2 and 4 in the playoff-clinching scenarios above.

Root for: Buccaneers or a tie

Falcons (6-7) at Panthers (1-12) — 1 p.m. ET — FOX

In a head-to-head matchup, the Falcons cannot catch the Lions with their max wins set at 10 and a tiebreaker already decided. However, in a crazy three-way scenario, they could theoretically catch Detroit. A loss by Atlanta buries them for good, and gets Detroit halfway to playoff-clinching scenario No. 3.

A Panthers win also helps by potentially hurting the Bears’ first-round pick from Carolina.

Root for: Panthers

Commanders (4-9) vs. Rams (6-7) — 4:05 p.m. ET — CBS

A Rams loss would be massive for the Lions’ playoff chances, as it would help scenarios 2, 3, and 4 above. In other words, it would give Detroit three possible outcomes of clinching a playoff spot on Sunday. Additionally, the Rams are looking like a semi-scary team right now. So if they could get knocked out of the playoffs to avoid some weirdly emotional Matthew Stafford-return-to-Detroit storyline, that’d be nice.

Root for: Commanders

49ers (10-3) at Cardinals (3-10) — 4:05 p.m. ET — CBS

As far-fetched as it is, Lions fans can start dreaming about the No. 1 seed again. If the Cardinals pull off a big upset like this, Detroit would jump San Francisco in the NFC standings with just three weeks to go.

Root for: Cardinals

Cowboys (10-3) at Bills (7-6) — 4:25 p.m. ET — FOX

Again, if the top NFC teams start to falter, the Lions could work their way into home field advantage for the entire playoffs. Detroit’s fate between them and the Cowboys will likely be decided during their Week 17 matchup, but why not get a head start this week?

Root for: Bills

Eagles (10-3) at Seahawks (6-7) — Monday, 8:15 p.m. ET — ABC/ESPN

This is a true toss-up. A Seahawks loss clinches a Lions playoff spot no matter the rest of the Week 15 results. It also drastically hurts the playoff chances of a Seahawks team that has been a thorn in their side for the past two seasons. Making them a less likely first-round matchup is probably a good thing, but…

If you want to dream of a first-round bye, the Eagles losing is undeniably better. Philly has a better conference record than Detroit (6-2 vs. 6-3), which could be a key tiebreaker if it comes to that.

Root for: Whomever you want. Lions benefit both ways. I’m rooting for a Seahawks win.

With these results, here’s what the NFC Playoff picture would look like with three weeks remaining:

  1. 49ers: 10-4
  2. Cowboys: 10-4
  3. Lions: 10-4
  4. Buccaneers: 7-7

Wild card race:

  1. Eagles: 10-4
  2. Vikings: 7-7
  3. Seahawks: 7-7

In the hunt:

  1. Rams: 6-8
  2. Packers: 6-8
  3. Falcons: 6-8

(Did not choose outcomes for 5-8 Giants, 5-8 Bears, or 6-7 Saints, because they don’t matter)

[Editor’s note: Tommy DeVito matters]

With these outcomes, the Lions would clinch a playoff spot (scenario 3 at the top). And they enter a three-way tie for the top seed in the NFC. The tiebreakers would simply be conference record at this point. San Francisco would be 8-2 vs. the NFC, while the Cowboys are 7-3 and the Lions are 6-3.

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