With the Detroit Lions in contention for a playoff birth down the stretch, every Tuesday, we’ll look at where the team stands in the race as well as their competition.
The Detroit Lions’ close loss on Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals was costly on a variety of fronts, but that’s mostly true in the ever-tightening NFC playoff race.
Looking back, it’s hard for Detroit not to think about what could have been with a victory. The Lions are still up on the Green Bay Packers for the second seed by virtue of their victory earlier in the season, but Green Bay is coming on strong.
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Otherwise, there are a few other scattered contenders, but the Lions remain in good shape in the playoff race. Here’s this week’s look around the rest of the NFC.
NFC East Contenders: Philadelphia (7-3) and Dallas (7-3).
Someone’s going to win it, and the second place team, barring a complete collapse, is likely going to get in as well. Consider Washington and the New York Giants dead and buried given their recent losing streaks. Between Philadelphia and Dallas, each has their problems with injuries, leaving the possibility open that the second place team could fall out of the race. Even though Dallas has made a habit of choking, don’t bet on it being them, and consider Philadelphia a force behind a tough defense and a quarterback that’s won in the past. For now, consider both relative locks.
NFC South Contenders: Atlanta (4-6) and New Orleans (4-6).
As it stands today, Detroit doesn’t have to worry much about the NFC South. They have tiebreakers over both Atlanta and New Orleans, and the Carolina Panthers are dropping like a rock despite a hot start. The only way the south figures in for Detroit is if the Panthers magically come back to life and become a wild card threat. That’s likely not happening.
NFC West Contenders: Arizona (9-1), San Francisco (6-4), Seattle (6-4) and St. Louis (4-6).
This is the division where things could end up complicated for Detroit. Arizona is blasting away with a fantastic record, likely leaving everybody else fighting for a wild card spot. San Francisco, on the brink of death two weeks ago, has pulled back into the race with a pair of key wins. Seattle, despite all their defensive struggles, remains a contender to snatch a wild card spot, too. The best news for Detroit will come as the NFC West beats itself up over the final six weeks. The non-pushover St. Louis Rams still have key dates left with Seattle and Arizona, while the Cardinals play Seattle twice and San Francisco once, and the 49ers tangle with Seattle twice and Arizona once. There’s plenty that can still happen here, leaving nearly everyone in the mix for a playoff birth.
NFC North Contenders: Detroit (7-3), Green Bay (7-3) and Chicago (4-6).
The Bears are merely listed as a contender due to the fact that they have two games left with Detroit and anything can happen given that scenario. For the Lions to be assured of winning the division, they will need to take both of those and find a way to win in Green Bay for the first time in over two decades. Additionally, they’ll need to keep winning the other contests in front of them, considering Green Bay doesn’t look poised for a slowdown. As the Lions proved last season, anything can happen, but Detroit remains in good shape for a playoff birth even as their schedule has gotten stressful. Both the Lions and Packers will flip-flop doing battle for the division and wild card down the stretch.
Week 1 Conclusion: With a victory over the Cardinals, Detroit could have taken a step towards virtually assuring they’d make the playoffs and looking excellent to win their division, too. Now, things are thrown back up in the air. A second straight loss in New England could invite some of the NFC West foes back into the wild card question, and put the pressure on Detroit to come up with big victories against teams they should beat down the stretch. They’re still locked into the two seed, but their grasp is starting to slip. The Lions should continue to figure significantly in the playoff discussion, though.