NFL Nation: playoff picture

This is a weekly look at the NFC playoff picture as it relates to the Detroit Lions.

It is a division title or bust now for the Lions.

With the Lions -- and Bears -- now two games back of Carolina and San Francisco for the wild-card berths in the NFC with three games to play, any chance of losing a divisional title and still making the playoffs is infinitesimal.

The good news for Detroit is it would still be in the playoffs if the season ended today. The bad news is the Lions have lost three of four games and still have three games left this season.

So it is a three-team race for essentially one playoff spot.

Record: 7-6
Remaining opponents' record: 15-23-1
Next game: Monday vs. Baltimore
Remaining games: vs. Baltimore, vs. New York Giants, at Minnesota

Record: 7-6
Remaining opponents' record: 18-20-1
Next game: Sunday at Cleveland
Remaining games: at Cleveland, at Philadelphia, vs. Green Bay.
Lions' interests: Obviously, the Lions need the Bears to lose to take some pressure off and give them any sort of cushion. The good news for Detroit is the Bears are just 2-4 on the road and have their next two games away from Soldier Field. Now tied again for the divisional lead -- Detroit has the tiebreaker -- Chicago has to keep winning and hope for help.

Green Bay
Record: 6-6-1
Remaining opponents record: 19-20
Next game: Sunday at Dallas
Remaining games: at Dallas, vs. Pittsburgh, at Chicago
Lions interests: The Packers are still on the fringe here, but they stopped their five-game winless skid last week against Atlanta. Green Bay's schedule gets harder from here, facing fellow playoff contenders Dallas and Chicago on the road in two of the final three weeks. Green Bay still needs a lot of help to make the playoffs. The Packers need to win and have a combination of Bears and Lions losses. What might help Green Bay? Aaron Rodgers seems like he could end up returning at some point this season, so if the Packers can stay in the race until then, they’ll have a huge weapon for the end of the season.
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.

Record: 6-4
Remaining opponents record: 23-38
Next game: Sunday vs. Tampa Bay
Next three games: vs. Tampa Bay, vs. Green Bay; at Philadelphia

NFC North:
Record: 6-4
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.

Green Bay
Record: 5-5
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.

Wild-card race:
Record: 7-3
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.

San Francisco
Record: 6-4
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.

Record: 6-4
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.

How three-game records translate later

September, 24, 2012
The 4-0 record NFC West teams posted in Week 2 renewed questions from some over the likelihood of the division producing more than one playoff team.

The chart makes no promises. It does provide a general feel for the likelihood of teams reaching postseason under the current format based on their records through three games.

The Arizona Cardinals (3-0) have to like their chances heading into games against Miami (home), St. Louis (road) and Buffalo (home). But as the San Francisco 49ers' defeat at Minnesota demonstrated Sunday, there are no guarantees. Arizona plays six of nine on the road beginning in October, which means ... little if the team plays the way it did at New England.

49ers need help from Chiefs or Falcons

December, 19, 2010
ST. LOUIS -- The San Francisco 49ers face playoff elimination Sunday if the Seattle Seahawks and St. Louis Rams win Sunday.

An NFC West double appears unlikely. The Seahawks face a tough matchup against Atlanta. The Rams could have a tough one against Kansas City.

But if the Seahawks and Rams prevail, one of them will finish the season with fewer than nine defeats. The 49ers already have nine.

Seattle and St. Louis would be 7-7 if they won Sunday. They play one another in Week 17, meaning one of them would finish 8-8 or 7-8-1.