The Detroit Lions had won three of four games to get back into the NFL playoff discussion, but a crushing Week 10 loss dramatically changes the playoff landscape for the Lions. There are too many teams in the NFC that are above them in the win/loss column, and only six teams will qualify from each conference.
The loss against the Vikings was disastrous from a playoff perspective, but the Lions played poorly as they failed in a critical time in the 2012 season. This group of Lions has made it a habit of playing out of the holes they dug for themselves, but Sunday was not one of those days.
The Lions played a poor game and let an opportunity to get a win against an NFC North opponent fall to the side. If there is a moment to point to that swung the season in a bad direction, it is the loss to the Vikings in Week 10.
The loss dropped their record to 4-5, good for last place in the tough NFC North. The Lions are no longer in a position to qualify for the playoffs by winning their division. Barring the miraculous, they are simply too far behind the 7-2 Chicago Bears and the 6-3 Green Bay Packers. The third-place Minnesota Vikings are 6-4, but they have beaten the Lions twice in 2012.
By no means are they out of the playoff picture, but it is fair to say their backs are up against the wall with seven games remaining. The Lions do play home games in five of their remaining seven games, and they will need to take advantage of the home field to give them a chance.
Looking at the NFC landscape after 10 weeks, it is unthinkable to see a team getting into the playoffs from the NFC with less than nine wins. To get to the nine win mark, the Lions must finish the season beating five out their seven remaining opponents. It sounds simple, but one look at the schedule speaks to size of that particular challenge.
First things first, the Lions need to play the teams that remain on their schedule. They control nothing else than how they play in each of their final seven games in 2012. The wins and losses that happen elsewhere around the NFC will not matter if the Lions can't win the games they play.
In that regard, the Lions' biggest challenge in getting to the playoffs is simply their schedule. They play an incredibly tough group of games to finish their 2012 season. The teams they finish the season with have a combined 45-18 record.
The Lions play the Green Bay Packers (6-3) at home in Week 11. They get the Houston Texans (8-1) on Thanksgiving Day at home in Week 12. In Week 13, they get the 6-3 Indianapolis Colts. In Weeks 14 and 15, they travel to Green Bay (6-3) and Arizona (4-5). The Lions finish their season with homes games against Atlanta (8-1) and Chicago (7-2).
Unless the Lions come up with a few upsets along the way, it should surprise no one if the Lions finished this season outside the playoffs, winning six or seven games.
If the Lions do string a few wins together to get themselves back in the playoff race, they will be looking up at a bunch of teams that currently have a better record than they do. Let’s look at what is happening in each NFC division, and project the teams the Lions will be looking to leapfrog if they can win enough games.
There are four division winners that will automatically qualify for the playoffs. There are another two wild-card teams that make the playoffs. These are the teams that did not win their division, but have won the most games among all non-division winners.
In the NFC East, the Giants currently lead with a 6-4 record. The Cowboys are second with a 4-5 record. Both the Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles hold a 3-6 record. The Cowboys are in a similar situation to the Lions. They need to win a bunch of games to get in, and without a few upsets they will not qualify. It is hard to see any of these teams in the playoffs, other than the division winner.
In the NFC South, the Atlanta Falcons are in first place by a wide margin. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are in second place with a 5-4 record, but the New Orleans Saints have won four of their last five to get themselves in the wild-card hunt. It is easy to see two teams from the NFC South qualifying for the playoffs.
In the NFC North, the Chicago Bears lead with a 7-2 record, but the Green Bay Packers are one game behind with a 6-3 record. The Minnesota Vikings are at 6-4. This is another division which will produce two playoff teams. Is it possible for the NFC North to produce a division winner and two wild-card teams?
The San Francisco 49ers lead the NFC West with a 6-2-1 record after their Week 10 tie with the St. Louis Rams. The Seattle Seahawks are in second place with a 6-4 record. The Arizona Cardinals are in third place with a 4-5 record. It is likely that the division winner and possibly one other team will qualify for the playoffs.
Summing it up, the Lions will be competing for two wild-card playoff spots with Dallas, Tampa Bay, New Orleans, Green Bay, Chicago, Minnesota, Seattle and possibly the Arizona Cardinals. Only two of these teams can win wild-card berths, and in the standings the Lions are currently behind five of them. They have the same record as the Cowboys, Saints and Cardinals.
As tough as the Lions’ road to the playoffs will be, they do have a small advantage as they can determine their own fate because of the teams they will face in the next seven weeks. They get the Packers twice, the Bears, the Cardinals and the Falcons.
For the Lions to get into the playoffs, they can’t lose any of the NFC matchups they play the rest of the way. That means two wins over the Packers in Week 11 and Week 14. It means they have to beat the Cardinals in Week 15, the Falcons in Week 16 and the Bears in Week 17.
If the Lions do get into the playoffs, it is because they have beaten some of the best teams in the league at home to finish their regular season. It is as straightforward as that, but with their current 4-5 record, the reality is that it is nearly impossible.