NFC North Playoff Scenarios (Spoiler: None Have the Vikings Getting In)


Sep 8, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz (left) shakes hands with Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson (28) after being defeated by the Detroit Lions 34-24 at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Thanks to ESPN’s Playoff Machine, figuring out complicated playoff scenarios is easy as pie. Thanks ESPN playoff machine!

Let’s use the all-knowing, all-seeing Playoff Machine to work out some NFC North scenarios. These are just for fun.

Scenario 1

Lions As the NFC 3 Seed

The Lions are locked out of the 2-seed by virtue of the Saints’ 10-win record. Even if the Lions run the table and the Saints lose all three remaining games, leaving the teams with identical 10-6 records, the Saints still win the tie breaker. So there will be no first round bye for the Kitties.

The 3-seed is still in play for the Lions however. I worked the machine and found that if the Lions win out and the Eagles lose at least one of their final three, the Lions wind up the 3-seed at 10-6. If the Lions tie with the Eagles, the Eagles get the 3 by virtue of tie breakers. If the Lions tie with the Cowboys at 10-6, the Lions win the tie breaker.

Of course, when you really get down to it, what is the difference between the 4 seed and the 3 seed in the NFC this year? You’re going to face a really good Wild Card team either way. Depending on match-ups, it might actually be favorable to have the 4-seed. Would the Lions rather play the second place team in the West or the second place team in the South? That’s what it will likely come down to. Unless something weird happens and you get three teams from the West. Or…well, more on that later.

Scenario 2

Bears As the NFC 3 Seed

The Bears greatly improved their playoff chances Monday night by beating up on Dallas. They are still very much in the thick of the division race. And as it turns out they are still in the running for the 3 seed.

I worked the Playoff Machine and discovered something interesting. The Bears have a similar situation to the Lions when it comes to claiming the 3-seed. They have to win out and have the right team win the East. But in the Bears’ case, the right team is reversed. The Bears beat Philadelphia for the 3-seed on tie breakers, but if they tie Dallas they actually drop to the 4-seed.

But wait a second, didn’t the Bears just beat Dallas head-to-head? They did, but head-to-head isn’t the #1 tiebreaker when determining seeding, conference record is. The Cowboys would have the Bears in conference record in this scenario.

Remember that no matter what happens the Bears have to finish ahead of Detroit. They can’t tie Detroit for the division because Detroit has already beaten them twice and therefore has an ironclad lock on the tiebreaker.

Scenario 3

Packers Host Detroit in a First Round Playoff Game

I found a screwy scenario where the Packers end up winning the division and the Lions end up getting the second Wild Card. This one involves San Francisco losing out to finish 9-7, with Carolina claiming the first Wild Card at either 9-7 or 10-6 (in this scenario it doesn’t matter as long as Carolina wins the Wild Card and not San Francisco). The Packers win the North by winning out, finishing 9-6-1. Detroit and Chicago tie for second at 9-7 and Detroit gets the other Wild Card. So Detroit as the 6 seed faces the Packers in Lambeau as the 3 seed. The Packers get the 3 seed because, in this scenario, the East winner finishes 9-7.

I tried running the same scenario with the Lions winding up at 8-8 and being eliminated, trying to get the Bears to Green Bay as the 6 seed, but no matter what I did it wouldn’t work. San Francisco always ends up taking the other Wild Card over the Bears via tiebreaker, setting up a rematch of last year’s San Francisco-Green Bay playoff game. I also tried sending Green Bay to Chicago but couldn’t get that one to happen either.

I also discovered something else interesting: Giving Detroit, Chicago, San Francisco, Arizona and Carolina identical 9-7 records results in Carolina and Detroit getting into the playoffs. But if I give the 49ers one extra victory, over the non-contending Falcons or Buccaneers, it sends San Fran to the playoffs at 10-6 and results in a bizarre tiebreaker scenario that eliminates Detroit, Chicago and Carolina, sending Arizona to the playoffs at 9-7.

Don’t even ask me why this happens. And don’t start throwing a “yeah but what about various permutations caused by other games not taken into consideration, affecting conference/division record and other tie breakers blah blah blah.” These scenarios are for fun, not so you can geek out on me.

Scenario 4

Lions Host Packers In a First Round Playoff Game

I messed around some more and discovered that, yup, you could get the Packers as the Wild Card going to Detroit in the first round. In this scenario, the Lions win the division at 10-6, and the Packers get a Wild Card at 9-6-1. Depending on various other factors too numerous to list right now – can you tell my brain is getting tired? – you could get Packers at Lions either as a 6-3 game or a 5-4 game.

Scenario 5

Vikings Keep the Packers Out of the Playoffs By Tanking Week 17

The Vikings themselves may have no shot at the playoffs – sadly, they were mathematically eliminated by their loss to the Ravens – but they could still play a huge role in determining how the division shakes out. Hell, they’ve already played a huge role by tying the Packers and beating the Bears. But they’ve still got one more division game, the final week at home against Detroit.

And that game could be huge. In fact it could decide the whole division if things shake out correctly. The really crazy thing is that the Bears and Packers play the same week, at the same time. So while Bears and Packers fans are watching that game, they will be anxiously watching for the outcome of Vikings-Lions as well. Rooting for the Vikings to win.

Question: Would the Vikings consider sitting starters in order to help the Lions, if it meant keeping the Packers out of the playoffs?

I’m normally against tanking, but in that case I’d have to seriously consider it.

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