Sitting at 5-5 following a disappointing road defeat to the Giants, Green Bay's roadmap to the playoffs appears set in stone. A Packers' postseason berth will only come through a division crown, a prospect moving further out of reach with every week Aaron Rodgers remains sidelined. Such is the cold reality of the current NFC landscape.
After impressive back-to-back wins over San Francisco and New England, the Panthers (7-3) have positioned themselves well ahead of Green Bay for a wildcard spot. The other wildcard has been the exclusive property of the 49ers, which -- outside of a week 14 showdown with the Seahawks -- will be heavily favored in all their remaining games. Even if Green Bay were to catch up to San Francisco in wins and losses, the 49ers hold the tie breaker from their week 1 win over the Packers.
That, as mentioned earlier, means the Packers will need to win the NFC North to advance to the playoffs.
While Green Bay sits only a game behind Detroit and Chicago in the standings, that gap stands to widen significantly if Rodgers can't return by November 28. That date, of course, is when the Packers travel to Detroit for the Lions' annual Thanksgiving Day game. Without Rodgers, it's a surefire loss for Green Bay, placing the Packers at either 6-6 or 5-7 depending on the outcome of this weekend's game against Minnesota.
In either scenario, the Packers would need to win out the remainder of the season, and even that wouldn't guarantee the division. Both the Bears and Lions face only one team with a winning record the rest of the way (Philadelphia) with each playing NFC North doormat Minnesota. It's hard to envision the Packers emerging from that scrum as the division winner.
The Packers' best and perhaps only chance at making the playoffs is to defeat the Vikings this weekend and upset the Lions on Thanksgiving. That would place Green Bay at 7-5 with an opportunity to knock out the Bears week 17. Wins over all three would allow Green Bay to match or exceed Detroit and Chicago in divisional record, an important tie breaker that the Packers cannot afford to lose.
The major problem with this scenario is it requires Rodgers to make an unprecedentedly quick return from a broken collarbone. The early side of the recovery range that's been reported is four weeks. Given that the injury occurred on November 4, Rodgers shouldn't be expected back before December 1. While that's only three days after Thanksgiving, it also seems likely that Rodgers wouldn't be ready for a December 1 game anyway. There's no realistic playoff scenario for the Packers that doesn't include a Thanksgiving Day victory over Detroit, meaning the Packers' season effectively comes down to that game. If Rodgers can't make it back in time, the Packers can start making their vacation plans for January.