The Green Bay Packers have an opportunity to clinch the NFC North and a home playoff game with a win on Sunday night against the Detroit Lions. This is simple math - the winner of the game will be 10-6, while the loser will be 9-7, giving the division to the victor.
However, the loser of the game can also still find their way into the playoffs if certain things break their way. Specifically, Washington needs to lose to the New York Giants, knocking them down to 8-7-1. (Note: to be technically correct, there is one scenario in which the Packers could fall behind Tampa. However, that would require Washington and New York to tie - which is of course highly unlikely.) If the Tampa Bay Buccaneers win against the Carolina Panthers, they would tie the NFC North loser on record at 9-7. However, I will break down why the Packers have the tiebreaker over the Bucs clinched should Detroit win that game.
By eliminating the Buccaneers as a potential concern for the Packers, they have very simple scenarios to clinch a playoff spot: either beat the Lions, or lose and have Washington lose to the New York Giants.
Setting Up the Tie
To figure out why the Packers have the tiebreaker over the Buccaneers, we need to find the scenario in which these two teams are tied for the 6th seed in the NFC. The three games which would result in this tie for 6th place even being in effect at all are as follows:
- Lions defeat Packers
- Buccaneers defeat Panthers
- Giants defeat Washington (game does not end in a tie)
Now for the initial tiebreakers. First, Green Bay and Tampa Bay did not play this season, so a head-to-head tiebreaker is moot. Second, the Packers and Buccaneers are tied on common opponents record at 3-2. Third, a Packers loss and a Bucs win also means that the two teams would have equal 7-5 records in the NFC games.
That brings the next tiebreaker to Strength of Victory, which is simply calculated by taking the teams who have lost to the Packers and Bucs and calculating their combined winning percentage. If Strength of Victory is tied, then the calculation moves to Strength of Schedule, simply the combined winning percentage of all teams on a team’s schedule.
In the event that the Packers and Buccaneers do end up tying for the sixth and final playoff spot, I can find no scenario in which Tampa Bay can actually defeat the Packers on the tiebreakers. They can tie the Packers on SOV, but in that event, the Packers are assured to have a greater SOS. Here’s how it breaks down.
Strength of Victory
Currently, Tampa Bay’s SOV is .446 (53-66-1), while the Packers’ is .441 (59-75-1). However, a Tampa win over Carolina drops their SOV to .434 by adding a 6-10 team to the SOV record, while the Packers’ SOV would actually increase to .445 if Detroit beats Green Bay (because the Packers beat them earlier in the season). Add in a Giants win and the Packers pick up an extra game, moving to .449.
Now we have to look at the other games on the schedule for teams that have lost to either the Packers or Bucs:
Packers wins: Jaguars, Bears (x2), Eagles, Texans, Seahawks, Vikings
Bucs wins: Falcons, 49ers, Bears, Chiefs, Seahawks, Chargers, Saints
Here are how all of those games could play out in Tampa’s favor:
- JAX @ IND: Jaguars loss hurts GB’s SOV
- CHI @ MIN: This game actually has no net effect on SOV - though it does have a slight effect on SOS. The Bucs’ win over Chicago negates one of the Packers’ wins over the Bears, so the net effect is one win and one loss to the Packers’ SOV. Assume a Bears win here, because that hurts the Packers’ SOS slightly - which I’ll discuss shortly.
- DAL @ PHI: Eagles loss hurts GB’s SOV.
- HOU @ TEN: Texans loss hurts GB’s SOV.
- SEA vs. SF: A San Francisco win helps Tampa Bay (1-1 added to their SOV vs. 0-1 to Packers’).
- NO @ ATL: This game also has no effect on SOV - the net of this game will be 1-1 added to Tampa’s SOV, while the Packers beat neither of these teams. As a result, this is similar to the CHI-MIN game above; for SOS, the advantage swings to Tampa if the Saints win, so let’s assume that.
- KC @ SD: See NO-ATL above. Tampa beat both teams, so this will add a win and a loss to their SOV while having no impact on the Packers, who played neither team.
If all of the scenarios described above play out, the Packers’ SOV would be 63-80-1, while the Bucs’ would be...that’s right, 63-80-1. So now we have to look at the Strength of Schedule item, which factors in who the Packers and Bucs lost to.
Strength of Schedule
We had ten games that were already decided to ensure the tie in SOV, so if we cascade those results through the SOS calculation we find that the Packers hold an edge by .504 (128-126-2) to .496 (124-126-2).
Each of the Packers’ other opponents have had their result decided by the games above which ensured an SOV tie. There are four other Buccaneers’ opponents whose games have not been decided; however, those four teams play each other as follows:
- ARI @ LA
- DEN @ OAK
Because those matchups are head-to-head, the Buccaneers cannot finish with a SOS over .500. Thus, even if the two teams end up tied on SOV, the Packers are assured of a SOS advantage, and therefore the 6th and final NFC playoff spot.
Summary and Details
Here’s a complete breakdown of how the schedules would work out as described above, including final results and projected wins/losses by each team on the schedule. But rest assured - if the Packers lose on Sunday, the only other thing that they need to happen to make the playoffs is for Washington to lose to the Giants. The Buccaneers simply cannot catch the Packers.