As I was writing the open threads on Sunday, I was looking for games to watch that could have an impact on the Green Bay Packers. Even with a couple notable NFC teams playing, it really didn't matter. The entire NFC is looking up at the Packers. It will take a surge by another team, and a mini-collapse by the Packers, in order for the Packers to lose home field advantage. Maybe the Lombardi era teams had their playoff picture locked up weeks in advance, but this isn't something that's happened to the Packers in my lifetime.
The closest analogies are the Super Bowl teams in 1996 and 1997. Both of those teams finished with a 13-3 record, and they were both 8-3 after 11 games. In 1996, after a week 12 loss to the Cowboys (7-4 at the time), the Packers controlled their path to home field advantage throughout the playoffs, but it was far from certain that they'd get it. In 1997, they were chasing the 49ers and they never caught up to them. Not that it mattered after the Packers traveled to Candlestick Park and beat them in the NFC Championship game.
So who can catch the Packers? The 49ers are at the top of the list. Over their last five games, they play four NFC West games and host the Steelers. I would pick them to win those five games, and likely to finish 14-2. If the Saints win on Monday night then they're only 3 games behind, but they lost the head-to-head tiebreaker. The Packers aren't losing four of their last five games. So only the 49ers have a real chance, if the Packers lose at least two of their final five games.
So what's going to happen over the next five games?
The Giants host the Packers next week. This looked like a tough matchup a few weeks ago, but if the Giants lose on Monday night (as I expect they will) they'll have lost their last three games. Also, injuries are tearing through their roster.
Then Packers host the Raiders on December 11, and travel to Kansas City on December 18. I have no reason to believe they'll lose either of those games.
If the Packers make it to 14-0, they'll take on the Bears and then the Lions at Lambeau. Since those two teams, I would expect, will be battling for a wild card spot, they'll likely need to win both of those games. However, the Packers might not need to win either game. Would the Packers sit their starters? Mike McCarthy did admit to holding back James Starks after they went up 21-0 over the Lions.
Why risk players like Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews, and Charles Woodson in a meaningless late season game? Or is the chase for a perfect season that important?