- 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.
The way the NFC is starting to take shape -- and yes, there is a long way to go still -- the NFC North might only get one playoff team this season and for the Lions, that means they better win the division.
Consider, too, that the Lions have never done that before, at least with the division in its current arrangement.
Surging Carolina, consistent New Orleans and San Francisco and a tiebreaker edge for Arizona all are major concerns for the Lions as they start to hit the back end of the season.
Speaking of tiebreakers, that’s also why the Lions are in the playoff hunt right now -- because they hold the tiebreaker over Chicago by sweeping them this year.
Remaining opponents record: 23-38
Next game: Sunday vs. Tampa Bay
Next three games: vs. Tampa Bay, vs. Green Bay; at Philadelphia
Remaining opponents record: 26-35
Next game: Sunday at St. Louis
Next three games: at St. Louis, at Minnesota; vs. Dallas
Lions' interests: While it would help Detroit if the Bears could drop at least one of their next two games against teams not really in the playoff picture, as long as Detroit keeps pace with Chicago, the Lions are in decent shape here.
Remaining opponents record: 25-35
Next game: Sunday vs. Minnesota
Next three games: vs. Minnesota, at Detroit; vs. Atlanta
Lions' interests: No Aaron Rodgers, but this is a crucial three-game stretch for the Packers if they want to stay in the playoff picture. Minnesota and Atlanta are winnable games and there’s also the Lions on Thanksgiving. Detroit would obviously want to win then and also have Green Bay drop at least one of the other two games.
Remaining opponents record: 30-30
Next game: Sunday at Miami; vs. Tampa Bay
Next three games: at Miami, vs. Tampa Bay; at New Orleans
Lions' interests: Every time it looks like Carolina might fall back in the wild-card race, Cam Newton and his team keep winning. The Panthers have now won six straight games and seven of their last eight after dropping their first two of the season. Carolina still has to face New Orleans twice and those games could decide the division -- but the Panthers look like a clear-cut playoff team now.
Remaining opponents record: 27-34
Next game: Monday at Washington
Next three games: at Washington, vs. St. Louis; vs. Seattle
Lions' interests: At this point, Detroit really would like Washington and St. Louis -- or at least one of those teams -- to upset San Francisco, which has lost two straight games. While the 49ers would be an interesting playoff opponent for Detroit, the Lions could use San Francisco to lose two of its next three to give it a decent position should it be in the wild-card race.
Remaining opponents record: 37-24
Next game: Sunday vs. Indianapolis
Next three games: vs. Indianapolis, at Philadelphia; vs. St. Louis
Lions' interests: Detroit needs Arizona to start losing. Now. The Cardinals have a tiebreaker over both the Lions and the Panthers, but have a really difficult stretch run. They have four potential playoff teams in their final six games -- Indianapolis, Philadelphia, Seattle and San Francisco. But if Detroit is pulling against any team right now other than the Bears and Packers, it should be Arizona because of that tiebreaker.