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NFC playoff picture: Detroit Lions closing in on 1st-round opponent

The Detroit Lions are nearly set in the three seed, which means one of two potential opponents in the first round.

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

Week 17 is officially in the books. Just one more week left for teams to clinch their spot in the postseason. But for the Detroit Lions—and really much of the NFC—a ton has already been decided. The San Francisco 49ers have clinched the top seed in the conference. Five teams have already secured their spot in the playoffs. There’s simply the matter of a couple of division champs and the final Wild Card spot still up for grabs.

Let’s take a look at the updated playoff picture, and what it means for the Lions.

NFC Playoff Picture

x = clinched playoff spot
y = clinched division
z = clinched first-round bye

Division leaders:

  1. 49ers: 12-4 - xyz
  2. Cowboys: 11-5 - x
  3. Lions: 11-5 - xy
  4. Buccaneers: 8-8

Wild card race (top three advance):

5. Eagles: 11-5 - x
6. Rams: 9-7 - x
7. Packers: 8-8
8. Seahawks: 8-8
9. Saints: 8-8
10. Vikings: 7-9
11. Falcons: 7-9 (only available in NFC South race)

After losing to the Cowboys, the Lions now do not hold the tiebreaker over the Cowboys (head-to-head) nor the Eagles. Philly currently holds common games tiebreaker (4-2 vs. 3-2), but the Lions could even that up with a win over the Vikings in Week 18. But beyond that, the Eagles currently hold the next tiebreaker—strength of victory—and that isn’t likely to change in Week 18.

That’s all to say if the Lions want the two seed, they’re going to have to finish with a better record than both the Eagles and Cowboys. So...

  • Lions beat Vikings
  • Eagles lose @ Giants
  • Cowboys lose @ Commanders

That is, essentially, the only way the Lions climb to the two seed.

Which means they’re likely staying put at three and playing the six seed in the first round of the playoffs. That spot is currently occupied by the Los Angeles Rams. The Rams play a 49ers team who has already wrapped up the one seed next week. If LA wins, they clinch the six seed. If they lose, the Packers could catch them with a win over the Bears, setting up a potential NFC North playoff bout. No other team can catch the Rams due to tiebreakers. So if the Lions get the three seed, it’s either Rams or Packers.

If Detroit makes an improbable climb to the two seed, they could play a wide variety of teams still technically alive for the seven seed, including the Rams, Packers, Seahawks, Buccaneers, and Saints.

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