Lions Rooting Guide: Best outcomes for NFC playoff picture

Pride of Detroit

Last week, we opened up our weekly Detroit Lions Rooting Guide, acknowledging that any hopes of a Lions postseason was a complete longshot. However, after Detroit pulled off a road upset over the New York Giants, suddenly it doesn’t feel all that ridiculous to talk about the postseason in Detroit. Football Outsiders has the Lions’ chance at the playoffs at a reasonable 16.3 percent, while the New York Times is far less optimistic at 10 percent.

A statement win over the Buffalo Bills would do a lot to bump up those numbers, and even if Detroit can’t pull off the upset, hope is not all lost.

So let’s dive back into the Rooting Guide for a Thanksgiving Day special—both of the other two games on this Thursday have implications for the Lions.

But before we do that, let’s take a look at the updated NFC playoff picture:

Division leaders:

  1. Philadelphia Eagles: 9-1
  2. Minnesota Vikings: 8-2
  3. San Francisco 49ers: 6-4
  4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 5-5

Wild Card race (top three qualify)

  1. Dallas Cowboys: 7-3
  2. New York Giants: 7-3
  3. Seattle Seahawks: 6-4
  4. Washington Commanders: 6-5
  5. Atlanta Falcons: 5-6
  6. Detroit Lions: 4-6
  7. Packers, Cardinals, Saints all at 4-7

The Lions are two games out of the playoff race, and while they can’t make much movement on Thursday, they can still creep a little closer. Here’s what needs to happen.

New York Giants (7-3) vs. Dallas Cowboys (7-3) — 4:30 p.m. ET — FOX

Root for: Cowboys

Dallas is almost certainly the better team (2nd in DVOA vs. Giants’ 21st), so they’re going to be nearly impossible for the Lions to catch, especially with the Cowboys holding the head-to-head tiebreaker. The Giants both aren’t an elite team and don’t have the tiebreaker over the Lions. I would not rule out a New York collapse that could have the Lions catch them if Detroit goes on a run. They’re three games ahead right now, but two games back with six games remaining sounds doable if Thanksgiving goes right.

New England Patriots (6-4) vs. MInnesota Vikings (8-2) — 8:20 p.m. ET — NBC

Root for: Patriots

The Vikings currently hold a four-game lead over the Lions, which seems insurmountable with seven weeks left—and it probably is. But if the Patriots help lower that to three this week and the Lions win the next head-to-head matchup between the two, suddenly we’re talking about a two-game lead with five other games to account for. The Vikings still have to travel to both Lambeau and Soldier Field, which are never easy places to win, even if both the Packers and Bears will be out of the playoffs.

Again, a NFC North run seems highly improbable for Detroit (Football Outsiders currently has the Vikings’ divisional odds at 92.9%), but there’s no harm in rooting for the Patriots (other than a dirty feeling that a shower won’t shed).

If everything goes the Lions’ way on Thanksgiving—obviously including a win over the Bills—here’s what the playoff standings would look like.

Division leaders:

  1. Philadelphia Eagles: 9-1
  2. Minnesota Vikings: 8-3
  3. San Francisco 49ers: 6-4
  4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 5-5

Wild Card race (top three qualify)

  1. Dallas Cowboys: 8-3
  2. New York Giants: 7-4
  3. Seattle Seahawks: 6-4
  4. Washington Commanders: 6-5
  5. Atlanta Falcons: 5-6
  6. Detroit Lions: 5-6
  7. Packers, Cardinals, Saints all at 4-7

*Note: the Falcons would have the temporary tiebreaker over Detroit due to a better record (2-0) in common games (Seahawks, Bears).

NFC North

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

And just for fun, here are the remaining schedules of both the Lions and Vikings beyond Thursday.

Lions

  • vs. Jaguars (3-7)
  • vs. Vikings (8-3)
  • at Jets (6-4)
  • at Panthers (3-8)
  • vs. Bears (3-8)
  • at Packers (4-7)

Strength of schedule: .422

Vikings

  • vs. Jets (6-4)
  • at Lions (5-6)
  • vs. Colts (4-6-1)
  • vs. Giants (7-3)
  • at Packers (4-7)
  • at Bears (3-8)

Strength of schedule: .461

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