But now, a first-round bye is well within reach. The Packers have rebounded to post a 6-1 record since their second-half debacle against the up-and-coming Indianapolis Colts, bringing their total standing to 8-4.
While catching the Atlanta Falcons will be nearly impossible, other division leaders have sputtered enough to keep Green Bay alive for the No. 2 seed.
The New York Giants’ typical up-and-down pattern has continued, as they have lost three of their last four games and now stand at 7-5.
And the team Green Bay has been chasing all year, the Chicago Bears, has also lost three of its last four to drop its record to 8-4.
Because the Packers defeated the Bears back in Week 2, Green Bay now stands atop the NFC North and the No. 3 seed along with it, if the playoffs started today.
Of course, the first step in grabbing the No. 2 seed would be to claim the division crown.
With only four games remaining, Green Bay and Chicago have almost the exact same schedule from here on out. Besides their Week 15 matchup, both teams play the Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings once. They also each face a 4-8 team in Week 16—the Tennessee Titans for Green Bay and the Arizona Cardinals for Chicago. The Packers might have a slight advantage here because they have two more home games to Chicago’s one, but the schedules are basically the same.
So really, the showdown on Dec. 16 should determine the division winner, barring any big upsets.
If Green Bay wins the game in Chicago, that would give it a 9-4 record, excluding the three other remaining games. The Packers really should win at least two, if not all of those games, which would put them at 11-5 or 12-4.
As always, tie-breakers will play a huge role in deciding seeding.
That is so with the Giants, who killed the Packers last Sunday night, meaning Green Bay must finish with a better record than New York.
This should be very doable for the Packers. They already own a one-game lead over the G-Men, and New York’s final four games are against the not-so-bad-anymore New Orleans Saints, at the 11-1 Falcons, at the 9-3 Baltimore Ravens and home to the awful Philadelphia Eagles. Given their respective remaining schedules, I don’t see any way the Giants finish their final four games with a better record than the Packers.
Green Bay also is at a disadvantage with the head-to-head tie-breaker versus the 49ers, since San Francisco beat Green Bay way back in Week 1.
As with the Giants, the Packers simply must end the year with more wins than the 49ers.
That means if Green Bay does indeed win out to get to 12-4, so must San Francisco to reach 12-3-1. Two main road games against the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks stand in the way of that happening. I highly doubt, especially if Colin Kaepernick keeps playing like he did this past week against St. Louis, that the 49ers can defeat both of those teams. The other two games are at home against the Miami Dolphins and Arizona Cardinals, two very winnable matches, even when Kaepernick isn’t at his best.
So, Green Bay’s hopes of grabbing a first-round bye kind of lie in Kaepernick’s hands. Can he keep up with New England’s high-flying offense? Can he find a way to get the better of Seattle’s two shutdown corners?
If he can do both of those, the Packers are done. If he can do one but not the other, the Pack will be in trouble, but not out of it. But if he can’t do either, Green Bay should have no excuse not to grab the No. 2 seed.
But it all starts with beating the Bears. If that doesn’t happen, it’ll be a Wild Card placing for the Pack.
It certainly won’t be easy, but the Packers have a very realistic shot at resting at home while eight other teams battle it out during the first weekend of the NFL Playoffs.