With two games remaining in the regular season for all teams in the NFL, the Detroit Lions have a number of different ways to clinch a position in the playoffs.
For Detroit, the focus (outside of their own games) will be on the Green Bay Packers (a Lions win in Week 16 against the Dallas Cowboys paired with a Green Bay loss to the Minnesota Vikings clinches a division championship), as well as the Washington Redskins (7-6-1) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-6) in the wild card race. The New York Giants and Atlanta Falcons are also technically still involved in the wild card race, but barring extreme circumstances, New York will earn the first wild card spot and Atlanta will win the NFC South.
In Week 16, the Lions of course travel to Dallas on Monday night for a meeting with the Cowboys, the Packers host the Vikings, Washington hosts Chicago, and Tampa Bay travels to New Orleans. Clinching scenarios for the Lions are as follows: a victory in Dallas paired with a Green Bay loss, OR a loss in Dallas, matched with losses by Washington and Tampa Bay. How will these games play out?
LIONS at COWBOYS
The Lions will battle, as they always do. Playing inside at AT&T Stadium will go a long ways in helping Detroit keep the game close, but in the end, a healthy dose of Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott paired with rookie quarterback phenom Dak Prescott will prove to be a bit more than Detroit can handle in this one.
DAL 28 – DET 20
PACKERS at VIKINGS
The Packers, fresh off a last second victory over the Bears that crushed Lions fans everywhere, are trending up in the last few weeks. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers hasn’t been at his best throughout portions of the season, but he has his team in contention as the season winds down, and that fact in it’s own right makes Green Bay scary. Minnesota is coming off a 34-6 thumping from the Indianapolis Colts, and have too many questions to make a run at a playoff spot, let alone keep this game close.
GB 31 – MIN 14
REDSKINS at BEARS
Despite their best efforts on Sunday, the Bears fell just short in an upset bid against Green Bay. Although they have played some solid defense throughout portions of the year, they haven’t won a game on the road all season. Although the Redskins lost to the Panthers last weekend, Chicago doesn’t pose the same challenge. Quarterback Kirk Cousins does enough to lead the Redskins to victory.
WSH 27 – CHI 21
SAINTS at BUCCANEERS
Yes, I’m going out on a limb here. But, it’s a sturdy limb. Both of these teams score points, and neither has a stifling defense. Drew Brees finds a way to post a signature victory at the back end of the season, and the Saints do the Lions a rather large favor by beating Tampa Bay.
NO 38 – TB 30
So, after Week 16, I have:
- DET: 9-6
- GB: 9-6
- WSH: 8-6-1
- TB: 8-7
Because of the “strength of victory” tie breaker in the wild card race, the Buccaneers are still alive in the playoff chase, but are in dire need of help. Detroit still has the inside track at a playoff spot (whether it be via the division championship or wild card). In Week 17, the Lions host the Packers (with the division title on the line), the Redskins host the Giants, and the Buccaneers host Carolina.
So based on the scenarios laid out above, what are the implications for Week 17:
Detroit clinches the NFC North with a victory over Green Bay, simple as that. They can however clinch the second wild card should they fall to Green Bay AND Washington loses at home to the Giants. The Lions would hold the tie breaker over the Buccaneers in the wild card based on win-loss-tie percentage among common opponents, therefore a shared record between Detroit and Tampa would result in a Lions advantage. That means the outcome of the Buccaneers/Panthers game would hold no meaning for Detroit or Tampa. However, should Tampa beat New Orleans in Week 16, then their Week 17 match-up against Carolina becomes of value.
GIANTS at REDSKINS
After having already clinched the first wild card spot, the Giants have nothing to play for in this game, and rest key starters. Washington gets it done against the New York back up players, and clinch the second wild card spot with a 9-6-1 record. Detroit’s only chance at the playoffs is now resting in the hands of their match-up with Green Bay.
FINAL: WSH 28 – NYG 13
PACKERS at LIONS
The Lions defeat the Packers at Ford Field to close out the regular season, thanks to a big day from kicker Matt Prater, who in very fitting form, kicks a game winning field goal as the clock strikes zero. Detroit finishes the regular season with a 10-6 record, securing home field advantage in the first round of the playoffs, likely as the four seed in the NFC.
FINAL: DET 29 – GB 28
You heard it here first. The four-seed Lions will host the five-seed Giants in the the first round of the playoffs, the first home playoff game in Detroit since 1993. Should this end up being the match-up, Detroit will have a chance to exact some revenge on the Giants, who downed them 17-6 at the Meadowlands in Week 15.