- Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer
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This is a weekly look at the NFC playoff picture as it relates to the Detroit Lions.
Seattle and New Orleans play Monday night and, for the purposes of Detroit’s initial playoff picture, don’t have a lot to do with the Lions and where they could end up at first.
The game could, though, matter down the road.
But for now, we’ll focus on what it will take for the Lions to reach the playoffs. It’s a pretty clear path now. Detroit is alone in first place in the NFC North because Minnesota beat Chicago on Sunday and are three wins away from clinching a divisional title.
There are four games remaining.
Remaining opponents' record: 21-26-1
Next game: Sunday at Philadelphia
Next three games: at Philadelphia, vs. Baltimore, vs. New York Giants
Remaining opponents' record: 23-24-1
Next game: Sunday vs. Dallas
Next three games: vs. Dallas, at Cleveland; at Philadelphia
Lions' interests: For divisional purposes, Detroit will want Dallas to beat Chicago. There is a scenario where a Bears win wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world -- mostly to hold on to the No. 3 seed since the Lions (and Bears) are essentially competing with Dallas and Philadelphia for the Nos. 3 and 4 seeds in the NFC playoffs. But right now, in the focus for a home playoff game for Detroit for the first time since 1993, the Lions should want the Cowboys to beat Chicago.
Green Bay Packers
Remaining opponents' record: 21-27
Next game: Sunday vs. Atlanta
Next three games: vs. Atlanta, at Dallas, vs. Pittsburgh
Lions' interests: More and more, the Packers look like a team that could just spoil a season at this point. Green Bay and Detroit split head-to-head. Technically, the Packers are still alive in this race, but they would need a lot of things to go perfectly -- essentially the Lions and Bears both completely falling apart down the final month of the season.
Remaining opponents' record: 26-20
Next game: at New Orleans
Next three games: at New Orleans, vs. New York Jets, vs. New Orleans
Lions' interests: More and more, Carolina looks like a legitimate force in the NFC. The Panthers have now won eight games in a row, including knocking off San Francisco and New England during that stretch. Now, two of three games against their divisional rival will determine who will win the NFC South and who will be playing the first weekend of the playoffs. Barring a complete meltdown, Carolina appears in. From a wild card perspective, it would be difficult to see any way the Lions would catch them if they didn’t win the NFC North.
San Francisco 49ers
Remaining opponents' record: 23-24
Next game: Sunday vs. Seattle
Next three games: vs. Seattle, at Tampa Bay, vs. Atlanta, at Arizona
Lions' interests: The 49ers, mostly due to Seattle’s dominance this season, appear to be headed toward a wild card berth. They have a one-game lead on Arizona and Philadelphia at this point (and Detroit, too, if it were not leading the division) so for purposes of the Lions, they would like to see the Seahawks knock off the 49ers on Sunday in San Francisco to keep them from getting too far ahead of Detroit, record-wise.
Remaining opponents' record: 23-24-1
Next game: Sunday vs. Detroit
Next three games: vs. Detroit, at Minnesota, vs. Chicago
Lions' interests: Simply, win, but that is not surprising at all considering the Lions are actually playing the Eagles on Sunday. But Philadelphia is one of the hottest teams in the league, so the win isn’t just important because it'd be another win for the Lions. It would also give the Lions a potential necessary tiebreaker against the Eagles for the No. 3 or No. 4 seed -- or for a wild-card berth if it somehow came to that. Big game Sunday for Detroit.
Remaining opponents' record: 28-19
Next game: Sunday vs. St. Louis
Next three games: vs. St. Louis, at Tennessee, at Seattle
Lions' interests: Good luck, Arizona. The Cardinals might have the toughest finishing stretch in the league, and now that they are trailing San Francisco by a game for the last wild-card berth, things could get dicey for Arizona's playoff chances. The Cardinals hold the wild-card tiebreaker over the Lions here, but considering what Arizona closes with, it could be in a tough spot by the time it even goes through the Seattle-San Francisco season-ending swing.