When Mike McCarthy offers some cliched NFL truism about his team still being in the playoff hunt and their season is not out in front of them, it won’t just be an old school coach clinging to some myopic view of the season or his career. It’s like anything ... they just have to win. Starting with the Vikings and the Bears. Win those games, and the Green Bay Packers would have a real chance coming home.
The NFL set up the schedule to back-load division games, setting up precisely the type of finish we’ll likely see in the NFC North. Each team plays the others once apiece over the final six weeks. The Lions and Bears meet on Thanksgiving Day, their second game in less than three weeks, while Chicago, who just beat Minnesota in a disjointed tilt on Sunday night, gets the Vikings again to close the year. If the Packers want to get back in the mix the season is now down to two games: on the road for the Vikings this week, and in Chicago for Week 15.
So, what’s on the line six days from now? Oh nothing much ... just the season and potentially a back-breaking game in the decorated career of one of the most successful coaches in franchise history that could inexorably alter the future of the franchise.
With six games left to play, three at home and three on the road, the Packers still have a chance to realize some modicum of their potential for the season. It’s not a stretch, logically or mathematically, to suggest they’re still alive in the NFC playoff race and even the NFC North. The Run The Table™ stretch didn’t come against the powerhouses of the conference, and a similar six-game win streak wouldn’t have to this season either.
Green Bay will be heavily favored at home for Arizona and Detroit, particularly given the Packers’ domination of the Lions at home. That leaves the banged up Falcons at Lambeau, where Aaron Rodgers and company would undoubtedly be clear favorites. Win those games — and they should — and it leaves the Vikings, Bears and Jets on the road.
Sam Darnold just threw another interception, so going to New York should just be an excuse for the Packers to take in a show and get a slice of pizza.
Winning the home games and the Jets contest would give the Packers eight wins, an extremely unlikely number to be sufficient for playoff seeding. Win even one of the two North road matchups and Green Bay could have a chance. A 9-6-1 record beats any 9-7 teams, and Minnesota, Dallas, Seattle, and Carolina increasingly look much more like nine-win teams than 10 or more. A win this weekend would give this team solid position coming home to battle for the six seed.
Now, take a look at the non-NFC North games the Vikings play to close:
Add that to games against each team in the division and Minnesota could be clawing and scratching just to be a .500 team. Beating them would mean a de facto sweep at 1-0-1 and sets Sunday up as a Loser Leaves Town match between these NFC North rivals.
It’s not considerably easier for the Bears, who still have the Rams, Vikings, and Packers left on their schedule along with a short week matchup against a frisky Lions team on Thanksgiving and a tricky road matchup against the Giants, who have come on a little of late. If the Packers beat Chicago in Week 15 and the Bears lose at home to the Rams along with the road game in Minnesota, that’s six losses.
In a different season, that would give Green Bay the wiggle room to lose one more game down the stretch. A clunk vs. the Falcons at home for example. Not this season. The Week 2 tie undoes that margin for error. A six-loss Bears team would have 10 wins whereas a six-loss Packers team would have just nine. But here’s where things get fun. If the Packers won out, and the Bears dropped the three aforementioned games, each team would have 10 wins. Oddly, the head-to-head sweep Green Bay would have wouldn’t even be necessary because at 10-5-1, Mike McCarthy’s team boasts the win percentage advantage over a 10-6 team.
To this point in the season, the Packers are 0-5 in road games and only three playoff teams have failed to win on the road this late in the season during the Super Bowl era. They’ll have to play much better than they have on the road, showing the ability to finish games and not turn the ball over. But we know the talent is there. We’ve seen it. Nothing we’ve seen this season however suggests the Packers are capable of putting it together. That will be true until they actually do.
That said, if they can beat the Vikings this week and take care of the games at home they should otherwise win, that leaves just the Bears game in Chicago as the biggest obstacle to Run The Table™ 2.0. It’s not crazy to believe this team has a run in it and the schedule sets up well for them to close.
The 2018 Packers season is now two games: in Minnesota and in Chicago. If they can’t win those two games, this team doesn’t deserve to go to the playoffs anyway. That’s exactly the way the NFL wants it, and it should be exactly the way Packers fans want it.