The Detroit Lions are still “undefeated” going into week 4 of the NFL. In saying this, the tie on their 2-0-1 record does create a unique situation in relation to playoff hopes.
In week 1, the Lions faced off against the Arizona Cardinals and went to overtime to only came away dead even. Each team managed a field goal on their first possession of overtime, but neither could put another point on the board.
This is the first time the Lions have ended a game in deadlock in the last 35 seasons, so it’s understandably confusing as to what that will mean in the standings at year’s end.
Ironically, one thing a tie means is the Lions likely do not have to worry about tie breakers — such as which team has the better divisional or conference record, records against common opponents, margin of victory, etc. They are unlikely to actually end up tied with anyone in the standings. The wins against the Los Angeles Chargers and Philadelphia Eagles will likely carry exactly the same weight. Normally, conference and division wins mean more because often division championships or wild card spots come down to such tie breakers.
The one team we would be most likely to finish tied with is Arizona, and if that were to happen, the tie breaker would likely be for draft position and not a playoff spot. Obviously, other games can end in a tie throughout the season.
Ties have become slightly more frequent in the NFL though still uncommon since the league made two changes. The first change was that a field goal on the opening possession is not sudden death. The second was shortening the overtime from 15 minutes to 10 minutes.
Assuming there are no other ties, or at least none that include NFC teams who end up tied with the Lions, let’s look at how the standings would play out. Let’s assume for this example that the Lions end up 9-6-1 on the season. The Lions then finish ahead of any team in the standings that is 9-7 and behind any team that is 10-6, which illustrates how unlikely tie breakers are to come into play for the Lions at the conclusion of the season.
One other thing to note, another tie for the Lions is no better than a loss. 9-5-2 and is really NO better than 9-6-1. 9-5-2 still finishes ahead of 9-7 and behind 10-6. So a second tie would basically gain us no ground in the standings aside from also keeping our opponent out of the win column for that particular game.
For example, if the Lions tie the Packers at some point this season, and end up 9-5-2 with the Packers going 9-6-1, the Lions would finish ahead of them in the standings. Such a scenario where the Lions tie another team they could end up neck and neck with in the standings is quite unlikely, so the Lions and Matt Patricia should approach overtime games from here on out as if a tie is a loss, and if late OT timeouts on defense trying to get the ball back allow the opponent to get a field goal turning a tie into a loss, so be it. As always, they have to try to win them.