After jumping out to a 4-2 start, the Green Bay Packers dropped four straight and were on the outside of the playoff picture looking in. Suddenly, consecutive victories over the Eagles and Texans have the Packers back to .500, just two games back of the Detroit Lions for the lead in the NFC North. With only four games left on the schedule, however, Green Bay has its work cutout with upcoming contests at home against Seattle, on the road in Chicago, at home against Minnesota, and on the road in Detroit. Fans of the Green and Gold are hoping the Packers’ matchup with the Lions in Week 17 on New Year’s Day will have the division title on the line.
For Week 17’s matchup to have any sort of significance, Green Bay will need to win each of the next three games, or win two and get some help. The mantra from head coach Mike McCarthy should be “one game at a time” heading into the Week 14 matchup against the Seahawks. At 8-3-1, Seattle appears to be the most dominant team in the NFC, with the exception of Dallas. If – and that’s a big if – the Packers can pull out a victory this Sunday against the Seahawks, they will have a ton of confidence and momentum heading into a string of divisional matchups. Running the table would give the Packers a 10-6 record, which is usually good enough to make the playoffs with at least a Wild Card berth.
With Minnesota losing six of its last seven games, it would seem the Vikings would not be in contention for postseason play. However, a hot 5-0 start helped the Vikings weather the storm and now sit at 6-6. They are still very much alive with games remaining against the Jaguars, Colts, Packers, and Bears. Not counting Green Bay’s wins and losses, the Vikings’ opponents have a combined record of 11-25 heading into the Colts’ tilt against the Jets on Monday Night Football. Their Week 16 contest against the Packers at Lambeau Field will have a playoff atmosphere, especially since Minnesota upset Green Bay 17-14 in Week 2.
At 8-4, the Lions’ division lead is very, very cushy. Detroit boasts a four-game win streak over New Orleans, Jacksonville, and Minnesota twice. But, buyer beware: its upcoming schedule is much more fearsome. After a home tilt against the 3-9 Bears, the Lions have to travel to MetLife Stadium to face the 8-4 Giants, and then to the Big D as likely underdogs against the 11-1 Cowboys.
It’s very conceivable that Detroit would enter Week 17 against Green Bay with a 9-6 record. If Green Bay takes care of business against Chicago and Minnesota, but loses to Seattle, it would enter Week 17 with an 8-7 record. Assuming Minnesota goes 2-2 over its next four games, a win over Detroit in Week 17 could propel Green Bay to 9-7, and an NFC North division title since it would hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over Detroit.
If, however, Minnesota goes 3-1 over its last four, the NFC North would be locked into a three-way tie for first place. That’s where it gets messy. Detroit would hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over Minnesota, Green Bay would hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over Detroit, and Green Bay and Minnesota would be split at 1-1. If the aforementioned scenario plays out, Detroit’s and Green Bay’s conference record would be 7-4, and Minnesota’s would be 5-7. Green Bay would win the division title based on the tiebreaker criteria.
Of course, its still possible two NFC North teams earn postseason berths with several teams within one game of each other in the NFC Wild Card race. But, the Packers should not hold out hope for luck and good fortune. Minnesota’s recent struggles and Detroit’s tough remaining schedule give Green Bay a solid chance to make their own luck and pave their own way into the playoff picture.
Stats courtesy of ESPN.com