Sunday’s results played out tremendously well for the Green Bay Packers. With the results of the games in week 14, the green and gold moved up a spot into the NFC’s top overall seed, a position that takes on even more critical importance in 2020.
With the NFL expanding the playoffs to seven teams per conference, only one team will receive a bye through the Wild Card round of the playoffs. Furthermore, that team will get to play the lowest-seeded team to advance out of the first round in addition to maintaining home-field advantage throughout the postseason.
Now, the Packers control their own path to that status at the end of the season, something they have achieved only once during Aaron Rodgers’ tenure as starting quarterback. That was in 2011, when the Packers went 15-1 in the regular season but dropped their opening playoff game to the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants.
The Packers’ control of that top spot comes thanks to their own 31-24 victory over the Detroit Lions combined with the New Orleans Saints’ surprising defeat at the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles, a team that the Packers beat just seven days earlier. Those results leave the two teams tied with a 10-3 record, but the Packers hold the advantage due to their head-to-head victory in week three.
The next teams up are the Los Angeles Rams and Seattle Seahawks, each of whom are 9-4 on the season. The Rams currently hold the tiebreaker in the division, but it looks like that crown will depend heavily on the result of the week 16 game between the two teams in Seattle. If both teams win their other remaining two games, that sets up the winner of that contest to take the division and remain alive for the NFC’s top seed, hoping for losses by Green Bay and New Orleans — and specifically hoping for losses in specific games.
The path to the top seed is clear for the Packers: win out and you get to stay at Lambeau Field. Still, there are some possibilities for the Packers to achieve that #1 status even with a loss. However, that will require a loss by the New Orleans Saints as well, who play the Kansas City Chiefs next Sunday. Furthermore, in all practicality that sole Packers loss cannot come in week 15, when they play the Carolina Panthers, or in week 17, when Green Bay ends the season in Chicago. Let’s examine why that is the case and the ways that Green Bay could still end up atop the conference if they drop week 16’s game against the Tennessee Titans.
2-Way Tie: Packers & Saints
Again, Green Bay wins a straight head-to-head tiebreaker with New Orleans thanks to the week 3 game. If the winner of the NFC West loses one of its other games down the stretch and both Green Bay and New Orleans drop one remaining game, it doesn’t matter which game the Packers lose — they’re #1 no matter what.
3-Way Tie: Packers, Saints, Rams
Packers lose to Titans, Saints lose to Chiefs, Rams win out
But here, let’s say the Rams win that NFC West game in week 16 and win their other two games to finish 12-4. The Packers, again, need to lose to give any other team a shot at the top seed, but if both they and the Saints drop one more game, that sets up a three-way tie for the top spot.
Here, the Packers’ seed will depend on what game they lose. If the Packers drop only the week 16 contest against the Tennessee Titans, all is well. The most likely scenario here would be for the Saints to drop another game would be to the Kansas City Chiefs, which would leave all three teams with matching 10-2 conference records. This would take the tiebreaker to the next level, record against common opponents.
In this case, we are assuming a Packers win over Chicago in week 17. That would leave the Packers and Saints with matching 4-1 records against the three teams’ common opponents (Eagles, Bears, 49ers, and Buccaneers), but the Rams would sit at 3-2 in those games thanks to a season sweep by San Francisco. The Packers lost to only the Bucs and the Saints just lost to the Eagles on Sunday, so this becomes a two-way tie for first with the Rams relegated to the third spot. Now, the Packers’ head-to-head win plays into the equation. In a 1v1 tiebreaker scenario, that gives the Packers the top overall seed.
Packers lose to Panthers or Bears, Saints lose to Chiefs, Rams win out
If the Packers instead beat the Titans but lose to either the Panthers or Bears, however, that drops their conference record a game back of the Saints and Rams. That would leave the Packers in the 3-spot with the Saints getting home-field advantage.
Packers lose to Panthers or Bears, Saints lose to Vikings or Panthers, Rams win out
This is the Rams’ only path to the top seed in a 3-way tie scenario: if both the Packers and Saints’ losses are to NFC opponents, the Rams win over both on conference record. Green Bay would beat the Saints out for the second seed because of their head-to-head result.
3-Way Tie: Packers, Saints, Seahawks
Packers lose to Titans, Saints lose to Chiefs, Seahawks win out
These will effectively have the same results as the Rams scenarios above, but due to different tiebreakers. This situation, with the Seahawks finishing 12-4, is pretty easy to game out as well. The Seahawks have already lost three games to NFC opponents. If they win out and the Packers and Saints lose their AFC games, both Green Bay and New Orleans will have superior conference records to Seattle, pushing the Seahawks to the 3rd seed. At that point, the Packers’ head-to-head win gives them the top seed over New Orleans once again in a 1v1 tiebreaker scenario.
Packers lose to Panthers or Bears, Saints lose to Chiefs, Seahawks win out
As is the case if the Rams win the West, the Packers dropping an NFC game would be a problem for their goal of achieving the number one seed. Green Bay again drops down to #3 if the Saints’ loss comes to Kansas City instead of an NFC team, with New Orleans taking the top spot due to conference record.
Packers lose to Panthers or Bears, Saints lose to Vikings or Panthers, Seahawks win out
In this situation, all three teams finish with three conference losses, and the Seahawks get the top seed thanks to a 5-0 record in games against the three teams’ common opponents (Vikings, 49ers, Eagles, Falcons). The Packers’ head-to-head win over New Orleans then gets Green Bay the #2 seed.
What is clear for now is that the Packers must beat the Carolina Panthers on Saturday night and the Bears in week 17 to keep their hopes alive for home-field advantage and a bye on Wild Card weekend. The Chiefs-Saints game next Sunday will then help to tell whether the Packers could still afford to drop a game against the Titans in week 16 and still maintain their position atop the conference. Packers fans should be rooting heavily for Kansas City in that contest.
With all that said, the easiest proposition is to win out, plain and simple. A 13-3 record will get the job done no matter what else happens.