Though slim, playoff chances still alive for Lions

Trent Balley, Detroit Sports Columnist

When the Detroit Lions dropped to 3-6 on the year, and later 4-8, all hope was lost. Very seldom does an 8-8 football team make the playoffs, let alone proceed to make any noise. However, as crazy as it may sound, and as unlikely as it may be, the Detroit Lions remain in the hunt.

What? The 5-8 Lions? Let me explain.

Sure, playoff hopes for the Lions are on life support, but there is indeed a roadmap to the wild card that still lives. The Seattle Seahawks’ 21-7 victory over Kirk Cousins and the Minnesota Vikings has given them an 8-5 record and a solid grip on the first NFC wild card spot.

As for the second… it’s up for grabs.

After what was an incredible year for the NFC last season, the conference has seemingly underachieved. Last season, there were 10 teams that finished with a .500 record or better compared to only six this season as we stand entering week 15. As a result, the wild card landscape is what NFL analysts would call “wide open.”

Assuming the Seahawks hang on for the first wild card spot, and all current division leaders keep their leads, eight NFC teams remain with eight losses or less. This makes them eligible to compete for the final spot in the playoff picture. The Minnesota Vikings (6-6-1), Philadelphia Eagles (6-7), Washington Redskins (6-7), Carolina Panthers (6-7), Green Bay Packers (5-7-1), Detroit Lions (5-8), New York Giants (5-8), and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-8) are still technically in the race.

Any team with a 5-8 record would need a perfect storm to roll in. While the chances are clearly slim, the Lions’ perfect storm seems far from impossible, especially this season. So, what exactly would the Lions have to do to pull off this comeback that nobody, even the most faithful of Lions fans, saw coming?

Win out

IMPORTANT: If the Lions do not go 8-8, nothing following this step will matter.

To do so, the Lions must win the rest of their games on the schedule. This would include a win on the road against the Buffalo Bills, followed by a home game against the Vikings, capped off by a visit to the Packers. Truthfully, this 3-0 run could very well be the toughest feat on the list of Lions needs to pull off this playoff push.

Vikings lose two of final three

Next, the Vikings need to lose two of their final three games. The good news is that the Lions can hand them one of those losses on Dec. 23 at home. Elsewhere, the Vikings host the Miami Dolphins next Sunday, and finish the season at home against the NFC North-leading Chicago Bears. Losses to the Lions in week 16 and the Bears in week 17 seems like the most favorable scenario from the Lions’ perspective. However, the Dolphins are hot and coming off an exciting win over the New England Patriots last week. Don’t sleep on the Dolphins to come out of Minnesota with a hard-fought road win to further aid the Lions.

Other teams stumble

The final step is quite simple… the Lions need these middle-of-the-pack NFC teams to lose as many games as possible. Hypothetically, if the Lions win out and finish 8-8, any one loss for the Giants and Buccaneers would eliminate them from contention. Furthermore, any one loss for the Carolina Panthers would eliminate them as well. The Lions beat the Panthers head to head, and therefore own that tiebreaker should the Panthers finish 8-8 as well.

As for the other teams in the race, the Packers must lose one more game. They play the Bears and New York Jets on the road, followed by the Lions at home; another instance in which the Lions can control their own destiny by handing the Packers their fateful loss.

The Eagles sit at 6-7 along with the Redskins, and in order to avoid advanced tiebreakers with the Lions, each team would need to lose two more games. The Eagles play the Los Angeles Rams on the road, then host the Houston Texans followed by a road game against the Redskins. The Redskins play the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans on the road before hosting the Eagles. The most ideal situation surrounding these two teams for the Lions would be the Eagles losing to the Rams and Texans before beating the Redskins, whose second loss could come against the Titans.

It’s a mouthful, no doubt. But when we take a look at the remaining schedules for these teams, the perfect storm for the Lions doesn’t seem too far off the forecast. Here’s a recap of the remaining schedules for teams in the race:

Vikings (6-6-1): Dolphins, @ Lions, Bears

Eagles (6-7): @ Rams, Texans, Redskins

Redskins (6-7): @ Jaguars, @ Titans, Eagles

Panthers (6-7): Saints, Falcons, @ Saints

Packers (5-7-1): @ Bears, @ Jets, Lions

Lions (5-8): @ Bills, Vikings, @ Packers

Giants (5-8): Titans, @ Colts, Cowboys

Buccaneers (5-8): @ Ravens, Cowboys, Falcons

Obviously, things will become more and more clear each week. If the Lions take care of their own business and finish the season 3-0, there’s no telling how the other dominoes may fall. That second wild card is up for grabs. Likely for the Lions? Maybe not, but don’t count Detroit out just yet.

Trent Balley is a reporter for Impact 89FM WDBM who primarily covers men’s basketball. Follow him on Twitter at @tbal91.