The Green Bay Packers are feeling good right now after having won three straight games to climb back over .500. However, they now have to run the gauntlet through the NFC North as they attempt to make the playoffs for an eighth straight season.
With games against the Bears (in Chicago), the Vikings (at Lambeau Field), and the Lions (in Detroit), the Packers do have an opportunity to make good on Aaron Rodgers’ “run the table” talk. However, the odds that they will do so aren’t great - and even at 10-6, there’s a chance they could still be left on the outside looking in.
Two sources, Football Outsiders and FiveThirtyEight, assess NFL teams’ likelihoods of making the playoffs each week of the season. The two systems use different measurements to simulate the remainder of the season - FO uses their weighted DVOA number while 538 uses ELO - but the concept is the same: simulate the rest of the season based on each teams’ marks and count up how many times each team makes the postseason.
This week, 538 projects the Packers to have just a 31% chance of getting into the playoffs, with a 21% chance of winning the NFC North. On the other hand, the Lions still hold a 75% chance of winning the division, which they can clinch by winning any two of their last three games. Detroit faces the 9-4 Giants and the 11-2 Cowboys on the road before closing at home against the Packers, leaving them with one of the toughest remaining schedules in the NFL. If they lose one of those next two contests and the Packers beat Chicago and Minnesota, Green Bay can win the division with a victory in Week 17.
However, 538 puts Detroit’s odds of winning both of their next two games at just 16% - they’re about a coin flip to beat the Giants this week, but they are a 2-to-1 underdog against Dallas on the Monday after Christmas. In other words, there is a very good chance that the Packers will have a shot at the division if they just take care of their own business these next two weeks.
With three weeks left, you can play around with 538’s playoff predictor to see how the odds are affected by individual game results. For example, if the Packers beat the Bears on Sunday, their odds (when ignoring any other game’s results) jump up to 39%.
Football Outsiders paints a slightly rosier picture, in part because the Packers’ DVOA rating is more favorable than their ELO number. FO projects the Packers to have playoff odds of 39.9% - an increase of 6.5% over last week. The vast majority of that chance is still with a division title, and they put the odds of that happening at a more encouraging 32.4%. There is even an outside chance that the Packers could run the table and earn the second seed in the NFC, which happened in 1.3% of simulations.
In addition to helping out the Packers in two weeks against the Lions, the Cowboys could give the Packers a boost this Sunday Night. They host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, holders of the sixth and final playoff spot at this point. Back-to-back Cowboys wins would be a huge help for Green Bay down the stretch.