(Note: this article initially and incorrectly identified the Lions as being in 6th place in the NFC instead of the Seahawks. Acme Packing Company apologizes for this error.)
Leading into week 12 of the 2014 season, the Green Bay Packers sat right in the thick of the NFC Playoff race. Green Bay was in a tie for first in the NFC North with the Detroit Lions (who however own the tiebreaker over the Packers thanks to their head-to-head win in week 3). However, that was good enough to earn the Packers the fifth spot in the NFC playoffs.
Then week 12 happened. After Sunday's games, the Packers are suddenly in the second spot in the NFC, and are just a game behind the Arizona Cardinals for the top spot in the conference. Let's see how it all broke down.
First, the Packers took care of their own business in the Twin Cities, beating the Vikings 24-21 and moving to 8-3. Then, with the trap game avoided, they earned sole possession of the NFC North lead as the Lions went to Foxboro and got trounced by the Patriots by a score of 34-9. The Lions now sit a game back at 7-4. Once looking like one of the most complete teams in the NFL, the Lions offense has stalled out and failed to score a touchdown in back-to-back games. Even more surprising, they have scored 21 points or more just four times all year, and are over 24 points just once, in week one. If Matthew Stafford and company can't learn how to find the end zone, it will be a tough road into the playoffs let alone advancing once they get there, and they're now sitting just outside the playoffs.
The afternoon game between the Seahawks and the Cardinals also helped the Packers in their quest for home-field advantage. Seattle's defense smothered the Arizona attack, holding them to just a field goal in a 19-3 win. That game knocks the Cardinals down to 9-2, just a game ahead of the Packers. Though Seattle moves to 7-4 (as did San Francisco with their win), it's more important for Arizona to lose as Green Bay keeps winning.
Finally, we look over to the NFC East. The Philadelphia Eagles' win was one of the few results in week 12 that did not help the Packers, as they remain even with Green Bay at 8-3. Of course, the Packers own the tiebreaker there thanks to last week's blowout win. The other contender in the NFC East, the Dallas Cowboys, came back to win on Sunday Night over the New York Giants and are also tied at 8-3; they lose the tiebreaker to Philly for now, but Thursday's Thanksgiving Day game in Dallas (and a rematch between the two teams two weeks later) will determine the front-runner in that division. In any case, the Packers will need a win against the Patriots at home next week to maintain their lead over whichever of the two NFC East teams is victorious on Turkey Day.
With all of these results, let's take a look at the playoff structure as it currently stands in the NFC.
|1||Arizona Cardinals||9-2||Lead NFC West|
|2||Green Bay Packers||8-3||Lead NFC North|
|3||Philadelphia Eagles||8-3||Lead NFC East|
|4||New Orleans Saints||4-6||Lead NFC South pending Monday Night game|
|8||San Francisco 49ers||7-4|
And yes, these standings leave out two teams with winning percentages better than .600 in favor of a team that's two games under .500. That's just the way it goes in the NFL, though.
All in all, just about everything that went on in the NFC on Sunday helped the Packers, and they're now sitting in position for a first-round bye and in striking position of the top seed.