On Saturday night, the Green Bay Packers did what they needed to do to maintain a lead for the NFC’s top seed: win their own game. It wasn’t pretty in their 24-16 victory over the Carolina Panthers, but the Packers got the W, moving to 11-3 on the season and ensuring that they would maintain their hold on the #1 spot in the conference regardless of what would happen on Sunday.
Then Sunday came, and the afternoon brought a pair of results that should give Packers fans reason for even more optimism about the possibility of securing the only first-round bye.
First, a shocking upset took place in California, as the Los Angeles Rams lost to the formerly 0-13 New York Jets by a 23-20 score. The Jets may have lost out on a chance to draft Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence as a result of this win, but for the Packers, this result helps to minimize the chance that the 9-5 Rams could catch up to them in the season’s final two weeks.
Then, a few minutes later, the clock ran out on the New Orleans Saints’ comeback attempt, with the Kansas City Chiefs securing a 32-29 victory in the Superdome. This was the big one that the Packers were holding out for, and it gives Green Bay a bit of breathing room. New Orleans now sits a full game back of the Packers at 10-4, with the Packers still holding the tiebreaker.
The combination of these two results, however, means that the Packers have a pathway to securing the NFC’s top seed in week 16 even before they meet the Chicago Bears to close out the season. First, however, let’s look at the NFC standings as they sit at present.
- Packers (11-3, NFC North champs)
- Saints (10-4, NFC South leaders, has conference games tiebreaker over #3)
- Seahawks (10-4, NFC West leaders)
- Washington (6-8, NFC East leaders)
- Rams (9-5, Wild Card; head-to-head win over #6)
- Buccaneers (9-5, Wild Card)
- Cardinals (8-6)
The way this shakes out for the Packers is that they can clinch the NFC’s top seed with a win over the Bears in week 17, regardless of what happens on Sunday night against Tennessee in week 16 and regardless of what happens with any of the other teams in the conference. If the Packers win their last NFC game, they will finish no worse than in a two- or three-way tie with New Orleans and/or Seattle; Green Bay would then hold the conference record tiebreaker in a three-way tie or in a two-way tie with Seattle.
But with a little help from the Rams, Green Bay could lock up the number one spot as early as Sunday. The Rams play the Seahawks with the NFC West on the line, as the Seahawks would clinch the division with a victory. Based on the standings, Packers fans should be all-in on Sean McVay’s team in that contest, as a Rams victory would ensure that each of those teams have five losses. As a result, the Packers would avoid any possibility of a three-way tie by winning either of their remaining games, with the only possible tie atop the conference coming in a two-way tie with the Saints. Therefore, a Rams victory means the Packers would be able to lock up the #1 seed by beating the Titans at home in prime time. (Note: a tie in Rams-Seahawks would accomplish the same goal, keeping the Packers out of a 3-way tie provided they win either of their remaining games.)
Thus, the Packers’ #1 seed-clinching scenarios are very simple:
- Packers win vs. Titans in week 16 AND Rams win or tie vs. Seahawks
- Packers win vs. Bears in week 17