- 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.
Detroit put itself in fairly good position Sunday by knocking off Chicago, sweeping the season series and now the Lions have a one-game lead on both the Bears and Green Bay in the NFC North.
They also, in some ways, kept pace with New Orleans as the Lions trail the Saints by one game for a potential bye in the first round of the playoffs. The bigger concern would be what is happening in the wild-card race.
If the season ended today -- the Lions would be the only team from the NFC North in the playoffs and would have to play host to San Francisco instead of Carolina. That would not be a very favorable matchup for Detroit.
But there is still a long way to go between now and the end of the season.
Remaining opponents record: 22-41
Next game: Sunday at Pittsburgh
Next three games: at Pittsburgh, vs. Tampa Bay, vs. Green Bay
Remaining opponents' record: 26-38
Next game: Sunday at New York Giants
Next three games: at Giants, vs. Minnesota, at Detroit
Lions' interests: Green Bay’s quarterback situation is a mess right now and could be until Aaron Rodgers returns, whenever that may be. From a divisional standpoint and a wild-card perspective, a Giants win Sunday would be massive for Detroit.
Remaining opponents' record: 29-37
Next game: Sunday vs. Baltimore
Next three games: vs. Baltimore, at St. Louis, at Minnesota
Lions' interests: The Bears are in a tough spot when it comes to the divisional race having been swept by Detroit. The bigger chance for them is in the wild-card hunt, but they, like the Packers, need to get their quarterback situation rectified to have a legitimate shot at the playoffs. Unlike Green Bay, though, Josh McCown has proven to be a capable backup to Jay Cutler.
Remaining opponents' record: 30-34
Next game: Sunday at New Orleans
Next three games: at New Orleans, at Washington, vs. St. Louis
Lions' interests: This is where things get interesting for Detroit. If the season ended today, Jim Harbaugh and crew would be the Lions’ wild-card round opponent, perhaps the worst of any potential matchups for them. A somewhat surprising loss for the 49ers against Carolina put them in this position. The Lions would be best served with a Saints win Sunday because it could cloudy up the playoff wild-card picture even more if the Lions were to lose the division. A 49ers win, though, could give Detroit the beginnings of a shot at a wild-card round bye.
Remaining opponents' record: 32-29
Next game: Monday vs. New England
Next three games: vs. New England, at Miami, vs. Tampa Bay
Lions' interests: Carolina put itself firmly in the playoff conversation with a win at San Francisco on Sunday, the Panthers’ fifth straight victory. They still have two games left with division-leading New Orleans and the Monday nighter against New England this week, but Carolina is a team that should be in the playoff hunt until the end of the season at the very least.
Remaining opponents record: 35-31
Next game: Sunday at Jacksonville
Next three games: at Jacksonville, vs. Indianapolis, at Philadelphia
Lions' interests: The Cardinals have the toughest closing stretch of any contender, finishing the season with division rivals Seattle and San Francisco -- including the Seahawks game on the road. If it became a wild-card situation, though, the Cardinals have the tiebreak over Detroit, so Arizona continues to hang around. For now.