The 5-7 Detroit Lions are in contention for a playoff spot, but what is their clearest path to a Wild Card spot?
When the Detroit Lions started the season 1-6, there was no hope within the fan base for a playoff appearance despite a heavily improved offense. Multiple close losses deflated the fans, and seemingly the team.
Attention quickly turned from this season to the 2023 draft, and who they could get to add to next year’s team. But since then they’ve pulled it together and won four of their past five games and are within striking distance of the playoffs. With five games to go, what needs to happen for the Lions to make the playoffs this season?
Determining the best, clearest path to the playoffs for the Detroit Lions
Step 1: Win four of their last five games
This feels like a stretch on the surface, and would mean the Lions end up going 8-2 in their last ten games this season. But when you look at their schedule, it’s conceivable.
To end the season, the Lions have winnable games against the Carolina Panthers, the Chicago Bears and a Green Bay Packers team that may not be playing quarterback Aaron Rodgers. That narrows it to winning one of their two upcoming games, against the Minnesota Vikings and New York Jets. Both teams have looked shaky at times over the past few weeks, but it’s more likely the Lions can beat the Vikings at home as opposed to the Jets on the road. If they can take care of business in the three games against the non-playoff teams and get a win against the Vikings or Jets, the Lions would finish at 9-8. That would put them in contention for a playoff spot. But they’ll need some help.
Step 2: Washington Commanders go 1-3 in their last four games
The Lions are a game-and-a-half behind the Washington Commanders for the eighth position in the NFC. But the Commanders have three games they could easily lose down the stretch. The New York Giants, San Francisco 49ers, Cleveland Browns and Dallas Cowboys are on the slate after a Week 14 bye, and the Browns are the only team they’ll likely be favored against. Losing three of their last four would leave Washington at 8-8-1.
Step 3: Seattle Seahawks go 1-4 in their last five games
With the Lions being two games down and the Seahawks holding the head-to-head advantage over the Lions, they would need to lose four of their last five games in order for this to work. The schedule does not present a great opportunity for these losses, unfortunately.
Seattle has easier games against the Panthers (Week 14) and Rams Week 17) down the stretch, with the 49ers, Chiefs, and Jets in between. But if they were to lose four of five, they would fall to 8-9 and be a game behind the Lions to render the head-to-head tiebreaker irrelevant. The Lions could then slip in as the seventh seed in the NFC.
Ultimately, it will be a tall task for the Lions to make the playoffs this season. Despite major improvements over the past five weeks, it is very unlikely they will be able to pull it off. But that it’s even a conversation is definitely a good thing. The future appears to be bright in Detroit.