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Updated NFC Playoff Photo: How the Detroit Lions Could Win First Place in the NFC

It was a holiday weekend for the Detroit Lions. On Sunday, they clinched their first division title in 30 years with a victory against the Minnesota Vikings. And as Christmas Day ended, a path suddenly opened up for them, potentially allowing them to claim first place in the overall conference standings. Thanks to the Baltimore Ravens’ loss to the San Francisco 49ers, three teams, including the Lions, are tied for the best record in the conference (11-4) through 15 games.

Let’s take a closer look at the NFC playoff picture now that all of the Week 16 results are in the books.

NFC Playoff Photo (Through Week 16)

x = won the division
y = clinched a playoff spot

Heads of divisions:

  1. 49ers: 11-4 – x
  2. Eagles: 11-4 – yes
  3. Lions: 11-4 -x
  4. Buccaneers: 8-7

Wild Card race (advancement of the first three)

  1. Cowboys: 10-5 – years
  2. Rams: 8-7
  3. Sea Falcons: 8-7

  4. Vikings: 7-8
  5. Falcons: 7-8
  6. Packers: 7-8

  7. Saints: 7-8

The 49ers currently hold the tiebreaker against the Eagles and Lions due to their impressive conference record (9-1). Philly and Detroit are 7-3 in the conference. The only way either team can make up for that difference is if they finish with a better record than the 49ers.

Philly temporarily takes the lead over the Lions due to the strength of the victory – the fourth tiebreaker. But that essentially doesn’t matter, because the other tiebreakers will change based on the last two weeks.

So, what needs to happen for the Lions to secure the No. 1 seed? Two things:

  • Lions win (vs. Cowboys vs. Vikings)
  • The 49ers lose or tie one more game (at Commanders, against Rams)

If the Lions win, it doesn’t matter what the Eagles do in their final two games, because Detroit would have the tiebreaker against Philly due to its record in joint games (thanks to a theoretical win against the Cowboys).

Could the 49ers go 1-1 in the final two games? A loss to the 4-11 Commanders seems unlikely next week. Washington has lost six in a row and eight of its last nine games. However, this finale against a Los Angeles Rams team that will likely be fighting for its life in the playoffs? This could easily be a loss. And what better way for the Lions to win first place than to get a little help from Matthew Stafford?

Of course, for all of this to happen, the Lions need to pull off some big wins of their own. Detroit is almost an underdog against the Cowboys this week, so it won’t be an easy task. But if they manage to get angry… watch out.

Lions’ current chances of securing the No. 1 seed (by New York Times): 4%
Lions’ No. 1 seed odds if they beat Dallas this week: 17%

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