It’s time to seriously consider the road forward. The Lions are sitting at 8-4 with four games remaining, with a dominant grasp on the NFC North, sitting as the third seed in their conference, and the potential of the playoffs looming very large. With games against Chicago, the New York Giants, Dallas, and Green Bay remaining over the next few weeks I’ll profile the playoff scenarios remaining so you can know just where the Lions stand and what they need for the best possible playoff spot. So let’s take a look at the scenarios for the next four weeks:
It’s highly unlikely that the Lions sweep the rest of the schedule, however if they pull it off it would be huge. A 4-0 finish gives Detroit a distant opportunity to take the first seed in the NFC. This would require the Cowboys to go 1-3, with Detroit being one of their losses, along with at least one loss by Seattle. With games remaining at the NY Giants, versus Tampa Bay and at Philly though, this outcome is an extreme long shot. The more realistic possibility would be targeting Seattle for the #2 seed and a first round bye. While the Seahawks do not have a very difficult schedule remaining with games at Green Bay, versus LA, versus Arizona, and at San Francisco, only one loss in this scenario would let Detroit pass them and Green Bay is a hard play while Seattle has faltered against both the Cardinals and Rams already this season. It is also worth noting that winning out guarantees that the Lions take at least the #3 seed and in turn the NFC North, ensuring Detroit gets at least one home playoff game against the last wildcard team.
In this scenario the small chance to win the conference disappears. Dallas is not going to lose out, let alone combining that with at least two losses by Seattle. With that in mind the chance for the Lions to take a first round bye away from Seattle diminishes significantly as well. Sure the Seahawks might struggle with Earl Thomas gone for the season, but it’s difficult to see how they would struggle enough to lose multiple games to a collective group with a record of 16-31-1. This still however leaves the Lions with the third seed in the NFC over the Falcons as even if Atlanta wins out, Detroit holds the tie breaker. Neither Green bay or Minnesota could catch Detroit at that point even if they were the ones to beat the Lions as winning out would still put both a game behind at a maximum of 10 wins.
Things start to get a little murkier at this result but still look pretty good for Detroit. To take the second seed at this point Seattle would need to go 1-3 or worse which would require a massive unforeseen collapse so we will eliminate that possibility. The Falcons would probably surpass the Lions on conference record tie breaker with a 3-1 record or better so at this stage the third seed would certainly be in jeopardy. The real key with a 2-2 finish would be looking at the division. The only way Green Bay could take the division would be if they won out including a win week 17 at Detroit, with any losses they would be out of the running for the division. Minnesota however would not have any chance still as even if they won out Detroit still holds the tie breaker. If Green Bay hypothetically were to surpass Detroit for the division though, the Lions would still be almost guaranteed a wild card position at 10-6 with the Giants and Buccaneers both having difficult schedules to finish, and Washington would need to win out to pass Detroit for a spot.
In the unlikely circumstance the Lions really struggle in the last three games after Chicago, things get dicey but there is still hope. If Detroit were to still take the division then the Falcons would almost certainly take the third seed based on remaining schedule. Green Bay would need to finish with either a 3-1 record including a win at Detroit or win out in order to take the division. Minnesota would need to win out to take the division. In this scenario any losses by Minnesota, or if Green Bay lost two out of their next three would pull those respective teams out of contention. If either team surpassed Detroit for the division the Lions would still have a chance to make the playoffs in a wild card position. The Giants would more likely then not be out of reach at that point, so the Buccaneers and Redskins would have to go 2-2 or worse, the cardinals would have to lose at least one game, and the other NFC north team that was not leading the division would need to end up worse then Detroit. For Green Bay that would mean a 2-2 finish, for Minnesota 3-1. Regardless, a playoff spot would still remain a significant probability despite faltering down the stretch.
The apocalypse disaster Millen-esque calamity scenario. The Lions would be in a really tough spot, but I will preface this section by saying the chances of this happening with the Bears on the schedule is almost zero. With an 8-8 finish the wildcard would almost certainly be out of the question, so the playoffs would come down to winning the division. The Lions would still win the NFC North at 8-8 if Green Bay finished 1-3 with losses to Seattle, Chicago, and Minnesota, and the Vikings finished 2-2, with one of those wins coming at Green Bay, and the other against either the Colts, Jaguars, or Bears.
What all this means is with a win next week against Chicago, Detroit Lions football fans should be preparing for the very high likelihood of a playoff game, and more likely then not it will be at Ford Field.