Had the Detroit Lions taken care of business last week, they would be holding the final playoff seed in the NFC and in control of their own destiny. Instead, the team wasted losses from the three teams ahead of them in the standings, getting pummeled by the Panthers, 37-23.
The good news is Detroit’s deficit didn’t change, but with just two weeks remaining in the regular season, the path has significantly narrowed. To keep any hope alive, and it goes without saying, everything starts with beating Chicago at Ford Field on Sunday.
Here’s what else fans should be rooting for this week as the Lions look to earn their first postseason berth in six years:
▶ Dallas Cowboys at Tennessee Titans, Thursday, 8:30 p.m.
The Cowboys have two playoff scenarios. Two games back in the NFC East, they can overtake the Eagles for the division crown by winning out and having the rival Philadelphia Eagles lose their remaining two games. Otherwise, Dallas is locked into the No. 5 seed in the NFC.
It’s in the Lions’ best interest for the Cowboys to have something to play for in Week 18. That’s because they play the Washington Commanders — one of the teams the Lions are chasing and hoping to jump — in the finale.
If the Cowboys’ playoff positioning is already determined prior to Week 18, there’s a strong possibility some starters will be rested. That creates less resistance for the Commanders to hold on to the NFC’s final playoff spot.
▶ New Orleans Saints at Philadelphia Eagles, Sunday, 1 p.m.
With the other side of the NFC East picture, the Lions need the Eagles to lose, keeping the door open and motivation up for the Cowboys in Week 18.
▶ Indianapolis Colts at New York Giants, Sunday, 1 p.m.
Win and the Giants clinch a berth. Lose and there’s still a possibility the Lions could leap them in the standings. But if you watched the Colts on Monday night, you understand why this is not a likely scenario. Still, it has to be mentioned.
▶ Cleveland Browns at Washington Commanders, Sunday, 1 p.m.
All the hand-wringing about Dallas resting starters in Week 18 is moot if the Browns can take care of the Commanders.
It’s certainly not out of the question. The Browns have been struggling offensively since incorporating Deshaun Watson into the lineup following the quarterback’s lengthy suspension, but the defense has been good enough to help the team win three of its last five games.
The Browns have already been eliminated from the playoff contention in the AFC, but will be focused on building back Watson’s confidence heading into the offseason. Meanwhile, the Commanders have gone winless in December and are switching quarterbacks this week, going back to Carson Wentz.
▶ New York Jets at Seattle Seahawks, Sunday, 4:05 p.m.
The Lions remain tied with the Seahawks in the standings, and will lose the tie-breaker if things finish that way based on the result of a head-to-head matchup in Week 4.
Neither team is playing well right now. The Seahawks have dropped three straight after losing to the Chiefs last Sunday, while the Jets are on a four-game skid and on the brink of being eliminated from the playoff picture in the AFC.
The Jets are getting quarterback Mike White back this week. That should at least give them a chance in what figures to be a hostile road environment.
▶ Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers, Sunday, 4:25 p.m.
There are two reasons to be pulling for the Vikings on Sunday. First, a win could eliminate the pesky Packers from playoff contention ahead of the Lions’ season finale at Lambeau Field. Hypothetically, that would also put a dent in the Packers’ motivation for that matchup, although there’s admittedly something to be said about forcing a divisional foe to share in the misery of missing out on the postseason.
The other value of a Vikings’ victory is it keeps them locked into the No. 2 seed in the conference, making them the Lions’ likely opponent, assuming they do manage to squeak into the postseason. The thinking here is there’s a confidence that comes with knowing you’ve beaten the opponent in the regular season.
▶ Los Angeles Rams at Los Angles Chargers, Sunday, 4:25 p.m.
It’s been mentioned frequently, but the Lions are receiving the Rams’ first-round pick. So the more losses for them, the better. What had been shaping up to be a top-three choice a few weeks back currently sits No. 7 in the draft order after the Rams won two of their past three games.
A Colts victory, however unlikely, could help the Lions in this regard. Additionally, the Cardinals and Falcons, who sit fourth and sixth in the draft order, play Sunday. So, by the end of this week’s slate, that Rams’ pick could once again be a top-five selection.
NFC Playoff Standings
- Philadelphia Eagles (13-2) (clinched playoff spot)
- Minnesota Vikings (12-3) (clinched NFC North)
- San Francisco 49ers (11-4) (clinched NFC West)
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-8) (leading NFC South)
- Dallas Cowboys (11-4) (clinched playoff spot)
- New York Giants (8-6-1)
- Washington Commanders (7-7-1)
- Seattle Seahawks (7-8)
- Detroit Lions (7-8)
- Green Bay Packers (7-8)