The NFL playoffs are still months away, and the only thing Detroit Lions coaches and players are focused on is Sunday’s Week 10 matchup in Chicago.
But it’s worth noting that if the playoffs were to begin tomorrow the Lions would host a playoff game at Ford Field as the NFC’s No. 3 seed.
After Green Bay’s loss to Chicago on Monday Night Football, the Lions are atop the NFC North thanks to their 4-2 record in the conference. With each team 1-1 against each other, the Lions lead the North based on their conference winning percentage. The Packers are 3-2 in the NFC and the Bears are 3-3.
It’s the first time since 1999 the Lions have lead or been tied for the division lead after the first eight games of the season.
"We are only halfway through the season and the tale of this season is not going to be written in the first half, it is going to be written in the second half and that is what we have to concentrate on," head coach Jim Schwartz said last week.
They travel to Chicago on Sunday with a chance to sweep the season series against the Bears and earn very important tiebreaker points.
How important? In the end, tiebreaking scenarios could mean the difference between the playoffs and early tee times.
If the Lions don't win the division, they are still in good position for a wildcard spot, but could ultimately need some tie breaking scenarios to fall in their favor.
The Carolina Panthers' have a similar 5-3 record, but have the advantage in the tiebreaker based on conference record. Carolina is 5-2 against the NFC this season.
The biggest difference between those two teams, though, is their remaining schedule in the second half.
Detroit’s remaining opponents are a combined 22-43 (.338). The Lions play two teams with a winning record (Bears and Packers) the rest of the way.
Carolina has to travel to San Francisco (6-2) and host New England (7-2) the next two weeks. They also plays New Orleans (6-2) twice and host the New York Jets (5-4) in mid-December. Carolina's remaining opponents are 36-30.
It shows why winning division and conference games is so important in the NFL.