It’s mid-November and the Detroit Lions are eyeing the playoffs. As things currently stand, the Lions have a 99 percent chance to make the playoffs and an 86 percent chance to win the NFC North, per the New York Times’ playoff simulator. They’ve positioned themselves for a trip to the postseason, and perhaps a run once there, if they take care of business down the stretch.
The final eight games will go a long way.
With that in mind, let’s take a game-by-game look with best- and worst-case scenarios for each week, as the Lions try to end on a high note.
Week 11: Bears at Lions
Best-case scenario: Justin Fields, set to play his first game since injuring his thumb in Week 6, is still shaking off the rust. He throws two interceptions, one to Kerby Joseph, in a Lions rout. Aaron Glenn gets the bounce-back performance he was hoping for, as the Lions shut down the Bears’ run game and hold them to under 20 points. The David Montgomery revenge game finally arrives, as Detroit’s workhorse back rushes for a pair of touchdowns against his former team. The Lions win rather easily at home, and shift their attention to Thanksgiving.
Worst-case scenario: Fields’ return presents issues for a Lions team that hasn’t handled mobile quarterbacks well. Fields and an improved Bears defense show up ready to play, with nothing to lose. The Bears’ second-ranked run defense limits Montgomery’s effectiveness. Wide receiver D.J. Moore and tight end Cole Kmet torch Detroit’s secondary, the Lions’ defense can’t get off the field on third downs, defensive end Montez Sweat makes his presence felt and the Bears pull off the shocker at Ford Field.
The pick: The Lions take care of business and improve to 8-2.
Week 12: Packers at Lions
Best-case scenario: A repeat of the first time these teams met, only this time, Lions fans make their presence felt in their home stadium. Jordan Love has to move to a silent count at Ford Field. The Lions get after a weak Packers offensive line to the tune of five sacks — just what the doctor ordered considering their lack of production of late. The offense finds the soft spots in Green Bay’s zone defense, as Amon-Ra St. Brown tops the 100-yard mark yet again. The Lions win and Detroit has a happy Thanksgiving.
Worst-case scenario: Love lets it rip downfield, throwing with precision and touch, hitting his guys Jayden Reed and Christian Watson in stride. Aaron Jones, limited in the first meeting, is far more effective and has some success against Detroit’s run defense. Jaire Alexander, who missed the first game, has an interception and Rashan Gary rattles Jared Goff. The Lions lose a letdown on Thanksgiving.
The pick: This one is closer than the first matchup, but the Lions, now 9-2, beat the Packers.
Week 13: Lions at Saints
Best-case scenario: The Lions have no trouble handling the Saints’ dink-and-dunk offense. Jack Campbell has his best day as a pro and begins to round into form a month before the playoffs. Derek Carr and the offense struggle to muster up much outside of check-downs to Alvin Kamara. A Saints team that has yet to play an offense as prolific as this Lions’ attack learns just how many ways this unit can beat you. The Lions win comfortably in the boot.
Worst-case scenario: Carr and the Saints offense decide to open up the downfield passing game. Wide receiver Chris Olave has a career day against the Lions’ secondary, Kamara gets yards in chunks on the ground and through the air and the Saints’ defense — ninth in scoring defense, ninth in passing yards per game and 10th in total defense — provides a challenge for the Lions. At home, the Saints get the W over the Lions.
The pick: The Saints are better on paper than on the field, and the Lions prove that. Lions win on the road and improve to 10-2.
Lions predictions at midseason: Detroit wins the NFC North — and a playoff game
Week 14: Lions at Bears
Best-case scenario: The Lions just prove to be a bad matchup for a Bears team that’s still rebuilding. This time, it’s Jahmyr Gibbs doing the damage against the Bears, as Montgomery takes a back seat against his former team. Soldier Field becomes Ford Field West, as Lions fans take over the stadium and drown out the home crowd.
Worst-case scenario: It’s hard to beat a team twice. The Bears keep getting better and discover an identity, similar to the Lions a year ago. Fields does his thing and runs for north of 100 yards. The explosive plays stack up and the Bears get it done against the Lions.
The pick: The Bears still aren’t ready, but they’re getting closer. The Lions improve to 11-2.
Week 15: Broncos at Lions
Best-case scenario: The Lions, winners of six in a row, are looking to keep things rolling against the Broncos. The secondary has a strong day against some good, but not great, receivers. Russell Wilson tries to play hero ball and gets himself into trouble, racking up a pair of turnovers. The defense can’t generate pressure against the Lions’ offensive line, and Detroit rolls to another win.
Worst-case scenario: The Broncos, surging at the right time, have discovered their identity. The Lions’ defense lets Russ cook. He plays efficient, mistake-free football. An ever-improving Denver defense gives the Lions’ offense fits. Javonte Williams proves to be a difficult back to take down. Pat Surtain II locks up Detroit’s passing game and the Lions struggle at home against a team with wins over the Chiefs and Bills. The Broncos picks up another impressive win.
The pick: Broncos win. They’re playing good football and appear to have figured things out. The Lions fall to 11-3.
Week 16: Lions at Vikings
Best-case scenario: Dan Campbell gets his group motivated to bounce back on Christmas Eve, reminding his team what happened against the Panthers a year ago. The Lions use that as fuel and take care of business against a scrappy Vikings team that continues to find ways to win.
Worst-case scenario: In the first of two matchups in the final three weeks of the season, the Vikings get the best of the Lions. The home-field advantage at U.S. Bank Stadium is evident. Brian Flores’ much-improved defense sets the tone, picking off Goff and forcing three Lions turnovers. The Lions have no answer for Justin Jefferson and Jordan Addison, who make life easy for Josh Dobbs. Hungry after a potential loss to the Bengals the week before, the Vikings bounce back with a win.
The pick: The Vikings, whose wins without Kirk Cousins have come against the Packers, Falcons and Saints, deserve credit for pulling together. But the Lions are clearly in a better tier. Detroit gets it done and improves to 12-3.
Week 17: Lions at Cowboys
Best-case scenario: The Lions, playing an opponent they could see in the first round of the playoffs, make a statement in Dallas. Ben Johnson hits all the right notes to carve up a formidable Dallas defense. Penei Sewell and Taylor Decker stonewall Micah Parsons and the Cowboys’ front seven. Gibbs has 120 scrimmage yards, Jameson Williams hauls in a 40-yard touchdown and the Lions’ run defense makes the Cowboys one-dimensional. In the end, it’s enough for a win just before the New Year.
Worst-case scenario: Dak Prescott does what he’s done to various secondaries over the last month or so and gashes the Lions for 330 yards and three touchdowns. Parsons and company get the best of Sewell and the offensive line, rattling Goff and limiting his time to throw. It’s a struggle for the offense, and the defense doesn’t have it. This one looks eerily similar to the Ravens game. Over before the first half.
The pick: Cowboys win, but the Lions are in it until the end. Detroit falls to 12-4.
Week 18: Vikings at Lions
Best-case scenario: A Lions team eager to finish the regular season on a high note and secure the NFC’s No. 2 seed shows up ready to play. The offensive line neutralizes Minnesota’s pass rush, led by Danielle Hunter, and keeps Goff upright. The defensive line, aided by the return of James Houston, has Dobbs on the run early and often. Detroit takes care of business and secures a top-2 seed in the NFC.
Worst-case scenario: The Vikings are fighting for a playoff spot and have established an identity under Dobbs, who now has a firm grasp of the playbook, full command of the offense and budding chemistry with playmakers like Jefferson and Addison. The defense is playing as one under Flores, who confuses Detroit’s protection with an array of blitzes. The Vikings get the win and pull off the upset on the road.
The pick: The Lions pull it out and go undefeated in the NFC North and 13-4 overall. It’s enough to secure the NFC’s No. 2 seed.
(Top photo of Rashan Gary and Sam LaPorta: Stacy Revere / Getty Images)
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