December 12, 2016
NFL Playoff Picture: Seattle Slips While Detroit Surges

The NFL playoff picture is beginning to get clearer and clearer with each passing week. After this upcoming Monday night game featuring the New England Patriots and the Baltimore Ravens, it will officially be three weeks left until the playoff picture will be complete. The Seattle Seahawks and the Detroit Lions entered Week 14 as the second and third seeds in the NFC playoff picture, with the Lions scheduled to play on wild card weekend. But after the lopsided loss the Seahawks suffered against the Green Bay Packers, 38-10, and Detroit hung on to beat the Chicago Bears 20-17, the Lions swapped spots with the Seahawks to move to the second seed. After a mostly predictable NFL season, this weekend turned a lot of playoff scenarios on their heads. Sports Illustrated's Chris Burke wrote on the possibility of the Seahawks being a three seed and the repercussions that come with it.

Matthew Stafford celebrates. [Image by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images]
Matthew Stafford celebrates. [Image by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images]

"The Seahawks are still a threat themselves, but again they turned in a performance Sunday that left such designation open for debate. Interspersed among games like last week's demolition of Carolina and a win at New England have been several performances like this one: at Los Angeles, at New Orleans, at Tampa Bay.

"You may notice the abundance of road games on that list, which only highlights the updated NFC standings. With its loss Sunday, Seattle dropped from No. 2 to No. 3 in the conference, meaning the Seahawks potentially would need to win multiple road games in January to reach the Super Bowl. Thus far, they have shown little ability to be a consistent force away from home."

Being a team that has to win multiple games on the road is a tough task in the NFL playoffs. This would explain the importance of the Detroit Lions winning their game against the Bears; the NFL gets harder and harder by the week, and the NFL playoffs are difficult regardless of the seeding. The Lions are also closely approaching an NFC North division title, which would make their potential NFL playoff bye even sweeter.

Matthew Stafford of the Lions sacked by Eric Kendricks of the Vikings. [Image by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images]
Matthew Stafford of the Lions sacked by Eric Kendricks of the Vikings. [Image by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images]

What the Lions have is the outstanding play of their quarterback, Matthew Stafford. Stafford, who will play the rest of the season with a dislocated finger on his throwing hand, has thrown for 24 touchdowns to only five interceptions. Despite the injury, the Lions will need for Stafford to be at his very best the next few games -- and in the playoffs.

"The Lions continue to find ways to play up to or down to the level of their opponent. It's one of the reasons they end up in so many close games, including Sunday's game against a 3-10 Bears team starting its third quarterback of the season and without the majority of their top playmakers.

"The Bears have proved to be Stafford's biggest problem this season. He's thrown seven interceptions all season -- four of them against Chicago. He had his first red zone interception since 2014 against the Bears Sunday. He completed 21 of 35 passes for 223 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions -- one of his most inefficient days of the year. But in the end, on the drive in which the Lions needed him most, Stafford managed to solve the Bears for one of the first times all day."

The NFL in December is difficult; teams are playing in cold weather and that makes it more troublesome when you're a team with a NFL playoff spot on the line. For the Seahawks, the NFL's overtime rule may have hurt them in terms of potential seeding in the NFL playoffs. Because the Lions have no tie, they have the upper hand on the Seahawks for the final three weeks of the season. The Seahawks suffered a setback, but are still in good hands. But, they now know that every game counts in the NFL and a tie is just as bad as a loss in the long run.

[Featured Image by Dylan Buell/Getty Images]