A Detroit Lions fans’ rooting guide for Week 18

Detroit News

The scenarios rapidly condensed, and the narrow path has been revealed, heading into the final week of the NFL regular season: If the Detroit Lions want to make the playoffs, they need two things to happen.

First and foremost, the Lions must beat the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. That won’t be easy, but it’s not the daunting impossibility it used to be. After 24 straight road losses to the division rival from 1993 to 2014, the Lions have won three of the past seven, albeit with a current three-game losing streak.

But while the mystique has cooled, the opponent is red hot. After falling to the Lions, 15-9 in Week 9, and dropping to the 3-6 on the season, the Packers have gotten things together in a hurry. They’ve won four in a row, blasting the NFC North champion Vikings last week, setting up a win-and-in scenario for themselves.

And that’s with Aaron Rodgers still playing subpar, at least by his standards. During Green Bay’s recent run, the quarterback has a passer rating of 87.0, well below his career 103.6 rating, and a figure that would rank in the bottom-half of the league over the course of a full season.

So, yeah, it won’t be easy, but this is a winnable game for a Lions team that has won seven of nine, all starting with that win over the Packers in early November.

Now about that second part of the equation.

▶ Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks, Sunday, 4:25 p.m.

If the Seahawks win, the Lions are toast. That’s because they hold the tiebreaker after winning a head-to-head matchup in early October. A Rams win, or even a tie, is the only thing that opens the window for Detroit.

It’s a secondary thought, obviously, but there are draft ramifications here. Given the Lions are set to receive the Rams’ first-rounder as the final piece of the Matthew Stafford trade, the consolation of missing the playoffs in relation to a Seahawks victory is that selection will be no worse than No. 6 overall.

▶ Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears, Sunday, 1 p.m.

If the Lions do manage to get into the dance, there are realitstically three possible opponents: Minnesota, San Francisco or Dallas. And while preferences may vary, it’s difficult to argue against the Vikings being the most favorable matchup given the Lions mopped the floor with them a few weeks ago.

Things were lining up for that potential third matchup until Green Bay wrecked Minnesota last Sunday, dropping the Vikings to the No. 3 seed. The only way they’ll be able to claw their way back to the second spot is besting the Bears and having the 49ers unexpectedly stumble against the struggling Cardinals at home.

Good luck with that.

▶ Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers, Sunday, 4:25 p.m.

The 49ers will be heavily favored to extend their active winning streak to 10 games, locking up at least the No. 2 seed and earning the right to host either the Lions, Packers or Seahawks in the Wild Card round.

Arizona pulling off the improbable upset could help the Lions multiple ways. As noted, it could set up the Vikings as the playoff opponent. On the flip side, if the Rams lose and the Cardinals win, the draft pick the Lions are inheriting becomes a top-five choice, based on a strength-of-schedule tie-breaker.

▶ Dallas Cowboys at Washington Commanders, Sunday, 4:25 p.m.

▶ New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles, Sunday, 4:25 p.m.

In terms of playoff opponents, the Cowboys would probably be the worst draw for the Lions. The way that happens is Dallas wins, San Francisco wins, and Philadelphia loses, allowing Dallas to claim the NFC East crown, with San Francisco moving up to the top seed in the conference.

Unless you live in Dallas and believe you can score tickets to the game, no Lions fan should want this scenario.

▶ Kansas City Chiefs at Las Vegas Raiders, Saturday, 4:30 p.m.

▶ Tampa Bay Bucs at Atlanta Falcons, Sunday, 1 p.m.

▶ Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints, Sunday, 1 p.m.

The Falcons, Raiders and Panthers are a game better than the Rams in the standings, but have a weaker strength of schedule. That means, if any of those teams finish tied at the end of the season, the Rams’ pick would be worse.

That’s why there’s value to rooting for all three of those 6-10 teams, since it won’t impact the draft order, regardless of whether the Rams win or lose.

▶ Houston Texans at Indianapolis Colts, Sunday, 1 p.m.

Finally, just sticking with the likelihood of Seattle taking care of Los Angeles, there’s a possibility for the Rams to jump ahead of Colts in the draft order. Given a Houston loss ensures the No. 1 pick, this has the makings of an awful football game between two teams that benefit far more from a loss than a win.

NFC Playoff Standings

  1. Philadelphia Eagles (13-3) (clinched playoff spot)
  2. Minnesota Vikings (12-4) (clinched NFC North)
  3. San Francisco 49ers (12-4) (clinched NFC West)
  4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-8) (leading NFC South)
  5. Dallas Cowboys (12-4) (clinched playoff spot)
  6. New York Giants (9-6-1) (clinched playoff spot)
  7. Seattle Seahawks (8-8)
  8. Detroit Lions (8-8)
  9. Green Bay Packers (8-8)

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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