It’s been quite a holiday weekend for the Detroit Lions. On Sunday, they clinched their first division title in 30 years with a win over the Minnesota Vikings. And by the end of Christmas day, suddenly a path opened up for them to potentially earn the first overall seed in the conference. Thanks to a Baltimore Ravens beatdown of the San Francisco 49ers, there are suddenly three teams—including the Lions—who are tied with the conference’s best record (11-4) through 15 games.
Let’s take a closer look at the NFC playoff picture now that all of the Week 16 results are in the books.
NFC Playoff Picture (through Week 16)
x = clinched the division
y = clinched a playoff spot
- 49ers: 11-4 - x
- Eagles: 11-4 - y
- Lions: 11-4 - x
- Buccaneers: 8-7
Wild Card race (top three advance)
The 49ers currently hold the tiebreaker over both the Eagles and Lions due to their impressive conference record (9-1). Both Philly and Detroit are 7-3 in the conference. The only way either of those teams makes up that difference is if they finish with a better record than the 49ers.
Philly temporarily gets the edge over the Lions due to strength of victory—the fourth tiebreaker. But that’s essentially irrelevant because the other tiebreakers will shift based on the final two weeks.
So what needs to happen for the Lions to earn the No. 1 seed? Two things:
- Lions win out (at Cowboys, vs. Vikings)
- 49ers lose or tie one more game (at Commanders, vs. Rams)
If the Lions win out, it doesn’t matter what the Eagles do in their final two games, because Detroit would have the tiebreaker over Philly due to their record in common games (thanks to a theoretical win over the Cowboys).
Could the 49ers go 1-1 in the final two games? A loss to the 4-11 Commanders seems unlikely next week. Washington has lost six in a row and eight of their last nine. However, that finale against a Los Angeles Rams team that will likely be fighting for their playoff lives? That could easily be a loss. And what better way for the Lions to earn the top seed than to get a little help from Matthew Stafford?
Of course, for any of this to happen, the Lions need to pick up a couple of big wins on their own. Detroit is nearly a touchdown underdog to the Cowboys this week, so that will be no easy task. But if they pull off the upset... look out.
Lions’ current odds to earn No. 1 seed (per NYT): 6%
Lions’ No. 1 seed odds if they beat Dallas this week: 20%
Note: I updated the above odds as of Tuesday morning, as they appeared to shift in Detroit’s favor a bit overnight.