With the Lions and the Rams losing again on Sunday — and the Bucs and Browns winning — only Detroit and St. Louis remain in the running for the first overall pick in the draft.
With the Lions at 2-13 and the Rams at 1-14, a loss by the Lions to the Bears and a win by the Rams against the Niners would leave Detroit and St. Louis knotted up at 2-14.
Given that the Rams beat the Lions, some are assuming that the Lions automatically would “lose” the tiebreaker, and thus “win” the clear shot at Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.
But it’s not that simple. Playoff tiebreakers take a back seat when when it comes to figuring out draft order.
For draft position, ties initially are broken by strength of schedule. For present purposes, “strength of schedule” refers to the total won-loss-tie performance of a team’s full slate of opponents.
As of right now, the Lions’ opponents are a combined 122-114. The Rams’ opponents? 125-113.
Barring a tie in Monday night’s game between the Vikings and the Bears, the Lions’ opponents will move to 124-116 (they played the two teams twice each, so there will be two wins and two losses to add to the total), and the Rams’ opponents will be 126-114 (the Rams played the Vikings and the Bears once).
Advantage Lions, albeit slimmer.
To get to a 2-14 tie, the Lions will have to lose, which would move their opponents’ record to 126-116, since they played the Bears twice. The Rams would have to win, moving their foes’ combined mark to 126-116, since they played the 49ers twice.
The Week 17 outcomes of the other teams on the Lions’ and Rams’ schedules would then come into play. In the end, the team with the lower strength of schedule would get the first overall pick.
If the combined records of the Lions’ and Rams’ opponents remain equal, then the head-to-head tiebreaker would apply, pushing Detroit into the top spot in the draft due to their loss to the Rams.
So for this weekend at least, Lions fans should be pulling for the Rams to beat the 49ers, and for the Lions to do against the Bears what the Lions have done 29 out of 31 times since the start of the 2008 season.
Lions fans also need to hope that the Lions’ 2009 opponents do the same or worse in Week 17 than the teams that the Rams have played.