|Will the Packers make it to prom?|
The short answer to the question above is yes. As astonishing as it sounds, Green Bay could go 4-1 down the stretch, end the season at 11-5 (same record as last year), and be on the outside looking in at a first-round playoff game hosted by a 7-9 team from the NFC West. The proverbial tuxedoed math geek waiting for an invite to prom, while the academically-challenged jock rolls with his posse of cheerleader babes.
Just getting to 11-5 is going to take a fight. Assuming we hold serve against the 49ers and Lions, we still have a tough road game against New England, and match ups against the Giants and Bears to end the season. I predicted the Packers would end the season at 11-5, but I assumed a few weeks ago that record would be good enough to get into the post-season. In fact, as every Packer fan knows, our season would be over if the playoffs started tomorrow. We have some ground to catch up. So let’s break it down.
The best path into the post-season would obviously be to win the NFC North. That’s still very achievable, particularly given the Bears’ tough schedule – which includes three road games against divisional opponents and the top two AFC teams in the Patriots and Jets. Although they get both those teams at home, which they played tough at in beating the Eagles last week. Most beneficial to us would be if the Lions or Vikings manage to get a win against them – if we finish with the same record as the Bears, and each win one game against each other, the tie-breaker goes to divisional record.
If the Bears keep it up and win the NFC North, then the Packers are forced to get in via a Wild Card – which could be tricky this year. There are four legitimate teams vying for the two Wild Card slots: the Packers, Saints, Buccaneers and whoever doesn’t win the NFC East (Eagles or Giants). What is a little unusual this year is that one division, the NFC West, is so atrocious, and it’s increasing the chances that a team with a high winning percentage from one of the other divisions won’t make the playoffs. Someone will “win” the NFC West – currently the pathetic St Louis Rams lead the division at 5-6. But everyone in the division is still mathematically in it. Hell, even the God-awful, quarterback-tirading, 3-8 Cardinals are only two games out of first. Not only does this mean that one really bad team will take one of the 6 NFC playoff spots, but it creates a bigger issue for teams like the Packers trying to get a Wild Card. The NFC South, which already has three good teams, gets to play the NFC West this season. They also each get to play the Panthers twice. That’s like 6 free wins for the Falcons, Saints and Bucs!
Assuming the Falcons win the NFC South (a safe bet, since they face the softest remaining schedule of all the NFC teams in playoff contention), then the Saints, currently a game ahead of the Packers at 8-3, and Bucs, at 7-4, would both be in good position for a Wild Card. At this point, as Packer fans, we should be rooting for the Falcons. They play both the Saints and Bucs again, and can deal those teams' playoff hopes a blow if they can beat them. In fact, our worst case scenario in the NFC South is that the Saints win the division and the Falcons finish 11-5 – in which case they’d get the Wild Card due to their head-to-head victory over the Packers Sunday. Regardless, we need to beat out at least one of the two prospective Wild Cards from the NFC South.
The NFC East is not quite as problematic. With the Redskins fading fast, it looks like the Eagles or Giants will win the division. Whoever is second will be vying for the Wild Card. Presently, the Packers have the same record as both teams at 7-4, and hold the tie break over the Eagles having beaten them on opening day. If the Packers can beat the Giants at Lambeau in week 16, they will hold tie-breaks over both teams. The Eagles have a soft schedule – twice against the Cowboys, Texans and Vikings at home, and away against the Giants – so I expect them to win the division. Which means our game against the Giants could be very important.
Bottom line right now, I feel like if we can get to 11-5, our chances will be very good to make the post-season. If that's not enough to beat out the Bears, then we'd almost certainly finish ahead of the Giants and Bucs for that last Wild Card spot. Feels do-able, given how mediocre those two teams seem to be, but it still makes me nervous that we’ll be standing on the staircase waiting for an invite to the dance.