By now, we know what the Green Bay Packers need to do in order to make the NFC playoffs in the 2013 season: win the NFC North. Last week, we asked the question "Just how dead are the Packers?" and came to a rather confident conclusion that they are very much still alive.
In that article from a week ago, we identified two things that had to happen for Green Bay to win the division: (1) win their last four games and (2) see the Lions lose two games before the end of the season. Those results would leave the Packers at 9-6-1 and the Lions at 9-7. Our ridiculously circuitous plan is one-quarter complete, as the Packers won on Sunday and the Lions lost one of the two games we need them to drop.
Before Sunday's results, the Packers' playoff odds sat at 5.9% according to Football Outsiders, with Detroit's at a relatively comfortable 78%. Those odds are sure to improve when they are updated tomorrow, but there's now a serious possibility that Green Bay could win the division even with a record of 8-7-1.
Think about it: the Lions are as talented as any team in the league, but their sloppy and undisciplined play gets them into trouble. Their losses this year looked like "good losses" early on (on the road to a decent Arizona Cardinals team, in Green Bay, and at home against the Bengals), but their recent losses should give pause to anyone with serious faith in the team to win. Complete teams don't lose to a bad Steelers team on the road and a worse Buccaneers team at home. Sure, the Eagles game was a mess, but there was a lot of sloppy play by Detroit in that game too, and not just because of the weather.
Then there's the Bears, who in the Packers' 8-7-1 scenario would need to lose one more game between now and the Week 17 rematch with Green Bay. They play a tough Dallas team tonight and go to Philadelphia in two weeks. I wouldn't bet on the Bears winning both of those games, and if they drop one that could give the Packers a little extra breathing room before the final week of the season.
For the Packers, winning out will minimize the help they'll need to get from the opponents of their division rivals, to be sure. However, it certainly looks plausible that they could lose one game in the next two weeks and still find a way to win the NFC North.
One thing is certain, though: that week 17 matchup with the Bears should be the very definition of a must-win game.