Four teams have already clinched a playoff spot in the NFC postseason race: the San Francisco 49ers, the Philadelphia Eagles, the Detroit Lions and the Dallas Cowboys. Another four, the Carolina Panthers, Arizona Cardinals, Washington Commanders and New York Giants, have been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention entirely.
With just two weeks left in the regular season, the once wide-open NFC race has become a little bit more clear. Now, eight teams are fighting for three final playoff bids: the NFC South title and two remaining wild card spots.
Here are those teams:
- 8-7: the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Los Angeles Rams and Seattle Seahawks
- 7-8: the Minnesota Vikings, Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons
- 6-9: the Chicago Bears
So what results should Green Bay Packers fans be rooting for this weekend? Let’s break down the upcoming schedule, key games to highlight and why some results impact the Packers’ playoff chances more than others, with the help of the New York Times’ playoff machine.
Packers @ Vikings
Playoff Probability Leverage: 59 percent
Who to root for: Green Bay Packers
This one is a no-brainer. I won’t waste my time explaining why the Packers, at 7-8, need to continue to win to close the gap between them and the three 8-7 squads ahead of them.
Rams @ Giants
Playoff Probability Leverage: 11 percent
Who to root for: New York Giants
Steelers @ Seahawks
Playoff Probability Leverage: 8 percent
Who to root for: Pittsburgh Steelers
In this pairing of games, the Packers are simply rooting against the Rams and Seahawks, who currently own the final two wild card spots in the NFC if the season were to end today. If the Packers and Rams ever finished with the same record at the end of the season in a two-team tie-breaker, Green Bay has the head-to-head win — which is extremely relevant.
I’m not sure if Kenny Pickett and/or Tyrod Taylor are going to be able to pull off an upset, but getting at least one upset would go a long way for the Packers’ playoff chances. In isolation, without knowing if Green Bay will or won’t win this weekend, one of those upsets would swing the Packers’ playoff odds by 8 to 11 percent in the positive direction.
Falcons @ Bears
Playoff Probability Leverage: 4 percent
Who to root for: Chicago Bears
Saints @ Buccaneers
Playoff Probability Leverage: 2 percent
Who to root for: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The third tier of rooting interests for Packers fans right now, behind a Green Bay win and some upsets happening to wild card leaders, is hoping that a second NFC South team doesn’t catch Green Bay from behind. This is why, on paper, you should be rooting for the Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers this weekend.
To some, this may seem counterintuitive. I never like rooting for the Bears, either, especially when they’re just one game behind the Packers, but when they’re playing an Atlanta Falcons team that has the same record as Green Bay — with Atlanta holding the head-to-head win — sometimes they’re the lesser of two evils.
But the Buccaneers are 8-7, Justis! Aren’t we supposed to be rooting against 8-7 teams? Yes, but someone is going to have to win the NFC South. If the Buccaneers can run away with the South title and beat down teams that are in the wild card race on the path to that playoff spot, that’s better for the Packers. Those are the quick explanations for these two games.
How much is on the line for the Packers this week? Well, according to the New York Times’ playoff machine, a worst-case scenario Week 17 (Packers loss, Rams win, Seahawks win, Falcons win and Saints win) would leave the team with less than a one percent chance to make the playoffs. On the flip side, a best-case scenario Week 17 (Packers win, Rams loss, Seahawks loss, Falcons Loss and Saints loss) would give Green Bay an 89 percent chance to make the postseason entering Week 18. In that situation, there are good odds that the season finale against the Chicago Bears would be a win-and-in type of situation.
Sound familiar? It wasn’t too long ago that the Packers played a division rival on Sunday Night Football with a playoff spot on the line. It’s funny how history repeats itself.