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NFC playoff picture: What Detroit Lions’ loss to Cowboys means for seeding

The Detroit Lions aren’t locked into the three seed, but it will take a lot of help to climb out of it. Here’s an updated look at the NFC playoff picture.

Detroit Lions v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

No matter how controversial—or flat-out wrong—the officiating was at the end of the Detroit Lions’ Saturday night clash with the Dallas Cowboys, the result is the result. The Lions lost the game and dropped to 11-5 on the season.

With the loss, the Lions’ shot at the No. 1 overall seed is a pretty big longshot, and even earning the second seed feels extremely unlikely. Let’s go over it all by looking at the updated NFC playoff picture after Saturday’s results.

NFC playoff picture

Division leaders:

  1. 49ers: 11-4
  2. Eagles: 11-4
  3. Lions: 11-5
  4. Buccaneers: 8-7

Wild Card race (top three advance):

5. Cowboys: 11-5
6. Rams: 8-7
7. Seahawks: 8-7
8. Vikings: 7-8
9. Falcons: 7-8
10. Packers: 7-8
11. Saints: 7-8

Technically, any of the top three seeds are still eligible for the Lions. All that matters are the final results from three teams: the 49ers, Eagles, and Cowboys. As a reminder, here are the remaining games for each of those teams.


  • @ Commanders (4-11)
  • vs. Rams (8-7)


  • vs. Cardinals (3-12)
  • @ Giants (5-10)


  • @ Commanders (4-11)

The problem for Detroit is that they are currently in a spot where they don’t have the tiebreaker over any of these three teams.


  • vs. 49ers: San Francisco has a better conference record and can’t be caught (9-1 vs. 7-4)
  • vs. Cowboys: Dallas has head-to-head tiebreaker and can’t be caught

The Eagles tiebreaker is a little more complicated. Right now, they have the edge conference record (7-4 vs. 7-3), but that could obviously change. The next relevant tiebreaker is common games, which also currently favors Philly (4-2 vs. 3-2) but could change. Those common games are Vikings, Buccaneers, Cowboys, Chiefs, and Seahawks. The Lions can tie up this tiebreaker with a win over the Vikings.

The problem is even if the Lions do that, the Eagles currently hold the next tiebreaker, which is strength of victory (the winning percentage of the opponents each team beat). The Eagles’ strength of victory is .482, while the Lions’ is at .436. Theoretically, this tiebreaker could change if a bunch of teams the Lions beat (but the Eagles didn’t) win over the last two weeks, but it’s not very likely.

So with no tiebreakers in hand, the Lions are in a pretty perilous spot to climb out of the three seed. Let’s look at what has to happen for the Lions to get all of the remaining seeds.

How to get the No. 1 overall seed

Simply put, the Lions will need to finish with a better record than all three teams, unless they can somehow flip that Eagles tiebreaker. So here’s what needs to happen:

  • Lions beat Vikings
  • 49ers lose to Commanders AND Rams
  • Cowboys lose to Commanders
  • Eagles lose to Cardinals or Giants... probably have to lose both

How to get the No. 2 overall seed

There are a couple of different ways this can happen. The “easiest” is that the NFC East teams lose out:

  • Lions beat Vikings
  • Cowboys lose to Commanders
  • Eagles lose to Cardinals AND Giants

If that’s the case, both the Eagles and Cowboys finish 11-6 to the Lions’ 12-5.

However, the Lions could also jump into the 2 spot if the 49ers just faceplant to end the season.

  • Lions beat Vikings
  • 49ers lose to Commanders and Rams

In this situation, the 49ers drop to 11-6 and the Lions jump them at 12-5. It doesn’t matter what the Eagles or Cowboys do, as the Lions would be the No. 2 seed at worst.

If the 49ers and Eagles win this Sunday, the only way the Lions can climb out of the three seed is if both the Eagles and Cowboys lose next week and Detroit somehow pulls ahead in the strength of victory tiebreaker over Philly.

In short, you’re a Commanders fan now.

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