The Detroit Lions season appeared to be circling the drain after last week’s loss to the Bears knocked their record down to 3-6.
That loss – followed by a week doused in drama over an outdoor practice – provoked a tumultuous perception of a team seemingly heading towards crash landing this season.
To their credit, the Lions battled through the adversity to keep hope for this season alive.
But is that hope founded or are we simply delaying the enviable?
The first thing to look at is the standings.
There are two paths to the playoffs; via a division title or wildcard berth.
By beating the Panthers, the Lions kept the wild card route open. At 6-5, the Panthers occupy the top spot in the race currently but all three NFC North teams plus the Seahawks (5-5) and Cowboys (5-5) have better records than Detroit while both the ‘Hawks and ‘Boys own tie breakers over the Leos.
Also, the Eagles will leave the week tied with or ahead of the Lions.
With so many teams in the hunt and with two tie breakers working against them, the Lions seem better positioned to make a run for the division, where they can exit this week only two games back, pending the outcome of Vikings/Bears tonight.
The Lions also have a game remaining against each of their divisional foes, with home games providing an opportunity to even out the prior losses to Minnesota and Chicago. They also have a road tilt against the Packers, a team they defeated earlier in the season.
Knowing that the main obstacles between Detroit and the playoffs is their division-mates, then the next place to look are the schedules of each team.
Starting next week, the schedules for the NFC North are as follows:
· Chicago - @DET, @NYG, Vs.LAR, Vs.GB, @SF, @min (combined record – 27-30-2)
· Green Bay - @min, Vs.ARI, Vs.ATL, @chi, @NYJ, Vs.DET (combined record – 24-32-1)
· Minnesota – Vs.GB, @NE, @Sea, Vs.MIA, @DET, Vs.CHI (combined record – 31-27-1)
· Detroit – Vs.CHI, Vs.LAR, @ari, @BUF, Vs.MIN, @GB (combined record – 29-26-2)
The Lions and the Bears play very similar strength of schedules while the Packers have the path of least resistance and the Vikings have the most difficult slate.
The good news for the Lions is that all their opponents with winning records (Bears, Rams, Vikings) are home games, where they are 3-2.
Assuming the Lions lose to the Rams but otherwise protect home field, that means they could get to 8-7 with a shot at 9-7 at Lambeau. If the Packers lose road games to the Vikings and Bears and slip at home against the Falcons, they’d likely enter the season finale at 6-8-1, presumably with nothing to play for.
The Problem is, both the Vikings and Bears have reasonable paths to nine wins and that could be problematic, especially because the Vikings’ tie would mean they essentially have 9.5 wins.
In conclusion, the Lions still occupy an outside lane on the race to the playoffs. Although today’s win at least provides a glimmer of hope.