We’re heading into the time of year when playoff participation becomes more than just speculation and hope. With the season more than half gone, the playoff contenders are starting to separate themselves from the rest of the pack.
Despite a rocky start to the season, the Green Bay Packers are certainly one of the teams that have begun to position itself for a healthy playoff run. They are currently second in the division and hold the tiebreaker with the division-leading Chicago Bears if they are able to pull even.
If they can maintain the progress from the past four weeks, the Pack has a good shot for a playoff bid.
Of course, in the NFL there is no such thing as a gimme. The Packers' remaining schedule has no room for error. With five divisional games still to come for Green Bay, things could still get unpleasantly interesting in the NFC North.
In addition to the tough interdivision play coming up, it’s important to consider the long and growing list of injured players, many of whom are starters projected to be out for multiple games.
Things may look promising, but there are still plenty of potential stumbling blocks for the team to trip on.
Considering all of that, it’s still never too early to begin speculation about whether the Packers will make the playoffs, and what seed they'll be if they get there.
Keep reading to see this writer’s predictions for the odds of Green Bay coming away with each seed.
The Atlanta Falcons may have been dragged back down to Earth this weekend by the New Orleans Saints, but the only way for the Packers to wrest the No. 1 seed away from them would be for the Falcons to lose another two games to NFC conference rivals.
On top of that, Green Bay would likely need to win out the rest of the season and hope that the San Francisco 49ers lose at least one more game.
In other words, the Packers would need to be perfect and have some outside help in order to come away with the No. 1 seed in the NFC.
Given the high level of play that we’ve seen from most of the teams ahead of them on the depth chart, and considering that the Packers have already lost to the San Francisco 49ers and will not meet the Falcons outside of a playoff scenario, there isn’t much the Packers can do to help themselves improve their chances here.
For all that the No. 1 seed is probably out of grasp without a lot of help, the No. 2 seed is a much easier goal to set sights on.
Take the Atlanta Falcons out of the equation, and the Packers are left eyeing the following teams for serious contention to take the No. 2 slot:
- Chicago Bears (7-2)
- San Francisco 49ers (6-2-1)
- New York Giants (6-4)
- Seattle Seahawks (6-4)
- Minnesota Vikings (6-4)
The Bears and the Vikings will face the Packers once and twice this season respectively, giving Green Bay a hand in their own fate against their division rivals. Sweeping those games would seat the Pack comfortably atop their own division.
Green Bay will also face off against the New York Giants, a team that has already started its traditional November slump and which may not ultimately win its division.
With regards to the Seahawks and the 49ers, keep in mind that only one of those teams can compete for a top-four playoff seed. Green Bay has already made their bed by losing to both teams—and that could spell trouble when it comes to playoff seeding.
Regardless, the two NFC West teams have yet to play each other for their second meeting. Both teams are heading into potentially brutal late stretches in their schedules, including a matchup each against Chicago (which could work in the Pack’s favor).
Realistically, the surest bet for the Packers this season is winning the division but falling short of a first-round bye.
The No. 3 slot would be theirs if they were to beat out the Bears and Vikings for the division, but ultimately tie or fall short of the Falcons and the Seahawks or 49ers on overall record and tiebreakers.
If all of the future division winners were to win out the remainder of their schedules—which is possible since there is no additional schedule overlap between San Francisco, Atlanta, and Green Bay—then Green Bay would take the third seed.
Moving down the seeding, we’re getting into “things didn’t go as planned” territory for the Packers.
To slide into the No. 4 seed at this point, the Packers would need to win their division against a Bears team and a Vikings team that are both looking very strong, but come away with a worse overall record than any other division in the NFL.
While the possibility certainly exists that the Packers will be part of a battle royal in the NFC North in which all four teams mutually beat each other to pieces over the next seven weeks, history has consistently proved that the Pack plays well within its division.
Given the state of the NFC East, it seems a bit of a reach to think that the Pack could win their division and have a worse record than the NFC East winner.
If the Packers don’t come out of their upcoming divisional round-robin play squeaky clean, then they may not win the NFC North division.
Looking more in-depth at that possibility presents a muddied playoff picture.
With Jay Cutler sidelined for an unknown length of time with a concussion, Chicago is scrambling to formulate a viable backup plan. The incredible power of their defense cannot be discounted, however, which means that despite Cutler’s injury the Bears are very much a threat.
The Minnesota Vikings have been something of a surprise contender in the division, but they have yet to be tested against either Chicago or Green Bay. Those games will be key in shaping the final playoff picture for the NFC.
The Detroit Lions aren’t as likely to be in the hunt for a playoff berth down the stretch this year, but they are ever happy to play spoiler within their division.
There is also the battle in the NFC West between the Seattle Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers to consider. Granted, one of those teams could fall off down the stretch, but at the moment both are looking strong.
Things get even cloudier with a slew of 4-5 teams, many of whom will play each other, still hopeful that they can ride a late season surge into the playoff picture. Regardless, it's a good bet that the Pack would have to hit the 10-6 or 11-5 mark to clinch the highest wild-card slot.
If the Packers find themselves in a late-season skid, it seems almost as likely to knock them out of the playoff picture entirely as to leave them with the No. 6 playoff spot.
Thanks to their schedule being weighted with interdivisional games, those losses would likely come from within the NFC North, which could hurt them badly in playoffs tiebreakers.
Still, the possibility does exist that the Pack could slip but then come through when it counts to grab the No. 6 slot.
We have seen a Green Bay team scrape and claw its way through six must-win games on its way to a Super Bowl victory within the last few years. Many of the core players who made up that squad remain on the roster. In fact, given the breadth and depth of the injuries, this 2012 team has been increasingly compared to that group.
Considering the excellent play the Packers tend to put together down the stretch, and the winning record Aaron Rodgers has enjoyed against all of his divisional opponents, the odds seem to be stacked against the Packers missing the playoffs entirely.
Things looked grim after a rocky 3-3 start to the season, but the offense has begun to find its stride and the defense is getting the job done. The Packers have enjoyed a special teams resurgence that has really helped breathe new life into the team.
Looking forward, the Packers face a tough but winnable slew of games down the final stretch. Unlike the schedules faced by many of the other teams in playoff contention, the Pack has already passed the majority of their most difficult hurdles.
If they can win out their season—which is possible but perhaps unlikely—then they are guaranteed to win the NFC North. Period.
In the more likely event that they lose a game or two along the way as the season winds down, things are still looking relatively positive. Winning a majority of their upcoming divisional games and coming away with a record of 10-6 or better still puts them in excellent position for a wild-card slot.
And as the Packers have recently demonstrated, a No. 6 seed is really all they need.