At 7-3, only three NFC teams boast better records than Green Bay. Ironically, two of them play each other tonight—the San Francisco 49ers and the Chicago Bears. The beauty is, no matter who wins or loses the game, the Packers will own the third-best record in the conference. It’s just a matter of whether it’s for the division or Wild Card lead.
Still, there’s much work to be done.
First, let’s say the Bears beat the 49ers. That would put Green Bay one game behind Chicago for the NFC North lead and one game ahead of Minnesota, Tampa Bay and Seattle and two ahead of the lurking Cowboys and Saints.
The two teams I would be most frightened of catching the Packers for the Wild Card would be Tampa Bay and Seattle. The Buccaneers started out slowly, but like the Packers, have caught fire as of late.
Seattle, on the other hand, is only one game behind Green Bay and owns the tiebreaker because of that Monday Night debacle back in Week 3.
It almost seems impossible for that not to play a factor in the playoff seeding. It was such a bad moment for the NFL, it only seems appropriate if it permanently tarnished the 2012 season.
Anyway, the Packers would have to go probably 3-3 or 4-2 to secure a playoff spot, since the 10 or 11 win mark is usually the magic number to clinch some playing time in January.
Three wins is definitely attainable (remaining games: at New York Giants, vs. Minnesota, vs. Detroit, at Chicago, vs. Tennessee, at Minnesota), but four will be tough. I still say the odds are in the Packers’ favor, probably at 60 percent.
Here’s the real interesting part. If the Packers do indeed grab the top Wild Card spot, they would face the worst division winner in the first round of the playoffs. Looking at how everyone is performing right now, it appears that will either be the Giants or Bears, which would be some sort of playoff rematch from the past two years. Either one would be a great game.
This time, let’s assume the 49ers win tonight, putting Green Bay in the division lead by way of tiebreaker. That would leave the Packers and the Bears with seven wins each and six games remaining on the schedule, one of which is against the other.
In the five remaining games not including the Dec. 16 showdown, their schedules are almost identical. Both play Minnesota twice and Detroit once. They also each play one 4-6 team (Arizona and Tennessee) and one 6-4 team (Seahawks and Giants).
In other words, the division crown would almost certainly come down to that Week 15 matchup. Whoever wins would give themselves a one-up advantage over an equally-tough schedule. Green Bay would have the extra advantage of the head-to-head tiebreaker if a win comes its way, putting the odds slightly more in its favor.
A big factor on the outcome of that game will of course be the status of Jay Cutler, who is sitting out of tonight’s game due to a concussion. It’s nearly a month away, so I think it’s safe to assume Cutler will be fine by then.
The Packers, however, will likely gain a couple more key pieces back from injury by that point also, which would be a much greater advantage.
Despite Chicago playing at home, I still think Green Bay wins this one by a touchdown or so.
If the Packers do end up winning the division, they’ll likely be the No. 3 seed and face the last Wild Card team, whether it be Tampa Bay, Seattle, Minnesota or whomever.
No matter who it is, though, Green Bay fans shouldn’t feel safe. As the Giants proved last year and the Packers in 2010, it’s not about seeding, it’s about who gets hot at the right time.
That’s way more important than grabbing the highest seed possible.