Packers' Wild Card Hunt in Good Shape

Dean SomervilleCorrespondent INovember 23, 2009

GREEN BAY, WI - OCTOBER 18: Johnny Jolly #97 and  Nick Barnett #56 of the Green Bay Packers celebrate a defensive stop against the Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field on October 18, 2009 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Packers defeated the Lions 26-0. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

While some may doubt the talent Ted Thompson has brought to this 2009 Green Bay Packers team and others (myself included) lament many of Mikey's play calls, I am now reaffirming what I stated preseason—the Packers are going to the playoffs.

On a day when there is much concern regarding the losses of Harris and Kampman, I look back to the injuries that cost us last season. 

Nick Barnett is the heart and soul of this D.  When he went down, the Packers had no answer.  When Jenkins went down, the double teams piled onto Kampman.

Depth has been added and our linebacker crew this year will not miss Kampman much, as younger guys like Jones, Chillar and Poppinga step in.  That says nothing of Thompson, Ozkifor and the injured Bishop for next season. 

The critical loss of Barnett will not be duplicated in the loss of Kampman.  Drafting Raji and the great move up to get Matthews have plugged the holes that caused the 5-5 to 6-10 collapse of 2008.  Thompson really did fix the major problem from last season.

I digress from my article, but that infusion of talent in those two players is now the difference.  With six weeks left in the season, the Packers have three near-guaranteed wins with Detroit, the reeling Ravens and the woeful Seahawks

Chicago has been decidedly weak against the pass and our passing attack is at least above average. 

Pittsburgh will be desperate, but are having just as much trouble containing a pass rush as our own Packers and even worse special teams, so that is at least a tossup. 

The final game on the schedule is in Arizona.  With the Vikings and Saints likely having wrapped up the byes weeks before the last Sunday, it seems unlikely the game will mean much to Arizona.  It is my opinion that the Packers are likely going to stay in Arizona for the following week's Wild Card game.

Looking forward to the playoff picture, most must now concede that the Saints and Vikings will clinch divisions and byes.  The Vikings need only one win or one Packer loss in the last six to clinch the division.  The same foes for the Saints and the Falcons.

The Cardinals need only two wins in six to clinch the West. To gain homefield, Arizona needs at least three Vikings losses or four from the Saints in addition to a perfect finish.  Winning the lotto is as likely as that scenario.  Those three teams will clearly be in the NFC playoffs.

The Packers playoff picture revolves around four other teams and three of five will make the playoffs.  Let me examine them.

The Cowboys have Oakland at home Thursday. While the Raiders have not been much this season, they have a stout defense and the Cowboys have but two touchdowns in the last two games and seem to be going into their late season swoon. 

Following that, the Cowboys are at the Giants before hosting the division-leading Chargers, followed by a trip to the undefeated Saints, then to Washington, whom they were fortunate to beat in Dallas this week.  Their season concludes with what likely be an all-or-nothing game with the Eagles.  Ouch.  Hard to believe they win more than three.  There are at least two losses Cowboys-Giants, Cowboys-Eagles that must benefit the Packers hopes.

Philly's road is no less treacherous.  They host Washington, then must go to the playoff-desperate Atlanta and the equally desperate Giants follow.  In Weeks 15 and 16, they host San Fran and Denver, whom at present seem to be heading the wrong direction.  As mentioned above, they conclude in Dallas.  Looking at the relevant games, Philly-Atlanta, Philly-Giants and Philly-Cowboys, there are three more guaranteed losses.

The Giants are in no less peril.  They go to Denver Thursday to face an equally desperate and reeling team.  Following that, they host back-to-back division rivals Dallas and Philly.  Then they go to Washington, host the potentially surprising Panthers and wind up in Minnesota.

Atlanta is a game behind the Packers, Giants and Eagles, but have arguably the easiest schedule next to Green Bay.  For starters, they are the only team with four home games.  Granted, after Tampa they host Philly and New Orleans, but their final three are at the Jets, hosting Buffalo and at Tampa.  It is not unlikely they go 5-1.  The game between them and Philly could be clearly the playoff dictator.

With three of these five teams making the playoffs, and the inter-division games counting for at least two losses for one of the three East teams and another for either Philly or Atlanta, the simple math says that if the Packers win four of six, they are guaranteed a Wild Card spot.

When one throws in that the other four teams have a combined three games against division-foe Washington, a game in Denver at Mile High, a visit to undefeated New Orleans, a visit from the Saints and a game in Minnesota, the very serious odds of any two of those teams going more than 3-3 is remote at best.

My fearless projection: Dallas goes 2-4, finishes 9-7; Giants go 3-3, also finish 9-7; Philly goes 4-2, wins division at 10-6;  Atlanta goes 4-2, finishes 9-7.

Packers will go 5-1 and secure the top Wild Card spot at 11-5.  A trip to 10-6 Philly for the rematch of the infamous fourth-and-26 game, rather than the warmth of 11-5 Arizona, would ensue.    

I'll let the math majors among you determine which 9-7 team between the Giants, Cowboys and Falcons gets the sunny trip to Arizona, but the one thing I am sure of is that this Packers team is too good not to be the Wild Card favorite as of today.