With all but one game complete in week 11 and most NFC teams having six games left to play, let’s take a look at how the playoff picture sets up and what it means for the Green Bay Packers. They travel to Minnesota to play the Vikings this Sunday night in a critical game that could very well help decide a Wild Card spot. At present, Minnesota sits in the playoff picture with the sixth and final seed, but the Packers are one game back with a tie in the ledger against the Vikings.
A win by the Packers would pull them even with Minnesota and ahead on head-to-head record, but a loss puts them two games back of the Vikings and all of the other playoff contenders in the win column with five to play. It’s truly do-or-die time for Green Bay this week.
Current Playoff Seedings
- New Orleans Saints*, 9-1 (week 12: vs. ATL Thu evening)
- Los Angeles Rams*, 9-1 (week 11: vs. KC Mon night, week 12: bye)
- Chicago Bears, 7-3 (week 12: at DET Thu afternoon)
- Washington, 6-4 (week 12: at DAL Thu afternoon)
- Carolina Panthers, 6-4 (week 12: vs. SEA Sun)
- Minnesota Vikings, 5-4-1 (week 12: vs. GB Sun night)
Right now, the Saints hold a lead on the Rams by virtue of a head-to-head win. The Rams play the Chiefs on Monday Night Football this evening, however, and could pull a half-game ahead of New Orleans before going on a bye next week.
Interestingly, three of the NFC’s divisional leaders will be in action on Thanksgiving day, with the Bears in Detroit for the early game, Washington in Dallas in the afternoon, and the Saints hosting the Falcons in the late game.
In the hunt
7. Seattle Seahawks, 5-5 (week 12: at CAR Sun)
8. Dallas Cowboys, 5-5 (week 12: vs. WAS Thu afternoon)
9. Green Bay Packers, 4-5-1 (week 12: at MIN SNF)
10. Atlanta Falcons, 4-6 (week 12: at NO Thu night)
11. Detroit Lions, 4-6 (week 12: vs. CHI Thu afternoon)
12. Philadelphia Eagles, 4-6 (week 12: vs. NYG Sun)
Look at this mess. There are three teams within a game of the Vikings for the sixth spot and three more just a half-game back of that. Since the Packers play Minnesota on Sunday night this week, they could pull into a tie with Minnesota and then hold the tiebreaker with a 1-0-1 record in head-to-head games.
It’s actually fascinating how the schedule sets up this week, as the teams slotted 7th through 9th can each tie a team that is in the playoff hunt and exactly one game ahead of them in the standings. If Seattle, Dallas, and Green Bay defeat Carolina, Washington, and Minnesota respectively, the standings would look very different next week. Dallas would pull into a tie with Washington for the NFC East lead and the 4th seed (taking a lead on tiebreakers), Washington would drop to the 5 seed, and Seattle would take over the 6th and final playoff slot and would hold a head-to-head win over Carolina. That situation would leave the Packers sitting in 8th place behind Carolina but ahead of Minnesota.
Washington, however, looks to be in trouble after Alex Smith’s gruesome broken leg on Sunday. It’s not hard to imagine them collapsing down the stretch and falling out of playoff contention, though they will have plenty of opportunities to keep their division lead with four games against NFC East opponents remaining. We’ll have a little bit better idea on Thursday after their game against the Cowboys, but the one way that the Packers can sit in the 6th spot after week 12 is with a win and victories by Washington and Carolina.
Ultimately, the upshot is that Green Bay desperately needs to beat Minnesota to have a realistic chance at the postseason. According to Football Outsiders, the Packers still had a 42.2% chance of making the postseason before Thursday’s loss to Seattle, but that number should drop considerably when FO runs their numbers again after Monday night’s game.
These four teams are effectively out of the race, though the Giants and Bucs could theoretically still make a run if they win out. New York has a better possibility if only because their division leader has a much worse record than Tampa’s.