It's ugly right now, Packers fans, I won't sugar-coat it. Our starting QB is out for several weeks, our best defensive player has a club on one hand, and we're also missing our two primary receiving threats who attack the middle of the defense. All of that in a normal year would mean that a team has no chance to make the playoffs.
But I don't buy that; the Green Bay Packers are still capable of winning 10 games this season, and that will be enough to earn a playoff spot in the NFC. We can debate the first point ad nauseum, but I'm here to explain why the second part of that equation is the case.
Let's take a look at the playoff picture as it sits right now.
|2||New Orleans Saints||6-2|
|5||San Francisco 49ers||6-2|
The Packers are tied in record with the Lions and Chicago Bears at 5-3, but the Lions win that tiebreaker right now based on in-conference winning percentage. The Panthers then hold a tiebreaker over the Bears and Packers for the final wild-card spot. Also in the mix are the Arizona Cardinals at 4-4 and the Philadelphia Eagles at 4-5.
Let's look at the possibilities for the Packers making the playoffs at all. Basically, I can see them slotting in at one of two places: the third or fourth seed as the NFC North winners, or the 6th seed as the final wild-card team. Based on what we've seen from the NFC so far, it's a safe bet that Seattle and San Francisco will have the NFC West and the 5th seed locked up, and I don't see the Cowboys falling behind in the NFC East.
I think that a 10-win season gets the Packers in one way or the other.
Winning the Division
First, let's focus on the tougher path to the playoffs: winning the North. At this point, it's entirely up for grabs, but I still think that if the Packers can find a way to win two of the next three games, they've got a chance. The Detroit game on Thanksgiving and the Week 17 game in Chicago are must-win games if Green Bay hopes to win the division - but neither game is a guaranteed loss.
The Lions and Bears play this Sunday in Chicago, and that game is a toss-up. Frankly, though, it doesn't matter which team wins - both have a pretty similar schedule the rest of the way, and the winner of Sunday's game will have the best chance to win the division.
The thing is, I see each of those two teams losing two games (not including the result of this week). I could see either team losing when they host Baltimore (Detroit in Week 15, Chicago in Week 11) or travel to Minnesota (Detroit in Week 17, Chicago in week 13), or play at Philadelphia (Detroit in week 14, Chicago in week 16). If each team loses two of these games and loses to the Packers, and if Green Bay can find a way to get to 10 wins, that would leave them in a tie with one divisional rival at 10-6 while the other lags behind at 9-7 (again, the order would depend on the result of Sunday's game). If it's Detroit, the Packers would own the tiebreaker with a 2-0 head-to-head record, while a Packers-Bears tie would have to go to another tiebreaker.
But even so, I think that tiebreaker would only drop one of these 10-6 teams down to the wild-card, not out of the playoffs entirely.
Once again, we're assuming the Packers find a way to finish with 10 wins. As noted above, I think they're finishing in second place in the NFC North at worst with that record. Here are the reasons why I think that will be good enough for a playoff spot, as we break down the other three possible NFC playoff contenders one by one.
Carolina Panthers (currently 5-3)
Carolina plays at San Francisco this week, then hosts the Patriots. I think that brings them quickly down to .500 at 5-5. Then they play the Dolphins on the road and the Saints twice - and I think they lose two of those three to fall to 9-7 at best.
Arizona Cardinals (4-4)
These losses are easy to spot. Arizona has the Colts in week 12, then a gauntlet of the Titans (on the road), the Seahawks in Seattle, and home against the 49ers to close the season. They'll be 8-8 at best.
Philadelphia Eagles (4-5)
Say the Eagles win on Sunday - it's still not tough to pick out two losses among the games left on their schedule. They host Detroit and Chicago, as mentioned above, as well as a talented but flawed Washington squad. Oh, and they close the season at Dallas. I'm sorry, but I don't buy them going 6-1 down the stretch.
Thus, even if the Packers finish in a tie for the NFC North lead at 10-6, I don't see any way that they're held out of the playoffs. Obviously, the challenge will be in getting to double-digits in wins...but if they can find a way to do that, the rest of the chips should fall in a way where Green Bay can make the post-season as the sixth seed at worst - and we all know what happened the last time that was the case.
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