Sunday’s loss to the Detroit Lions felt like a crippling shot to the playoff hopes of the Green Bay Packers.
A look at the remaining schedules for the teams Green Bay is chasing in the NFC playoff race doesn’t brighten the picture at all.
But first, a look at the playoff picture at the moment.
As of now, there are seven teams playing for five spots (with the winner of the putrid NFC West getting the sixth, below .500 record be damned). The Packers are currently in seventh - i.e., dead last. If the playoffs started today – which, surprise, they don’t! – Atlanta (11-2) and Chicago (9-4) would have first-round byes, the Falcons having homefield throughout.
Your first round matchups would be No. 6 New York (8-4) at No. 3 Philadelphia (9-4) and No. 5 New Orleans (10-3) at No. 4 St. Louis (6-7). Tampa Bay (8-5) is the first-team out, with Green Bay (8-5) trailing because Tampa Bay has lost one less conference game. Win or lose, the Giants will remain the sixth seed after tonight’s contest with the Vikings (they’ll have tiebreakers over both the Bucs and the Packers).
In other words, the Packers have a long way to go and not much time to get there.
For the purposes of this post, I’m going to assume Atlanta earns homefield, St. Louis takes the fourth spot and the Saints grab the No. 5 position. Now we’re left with five teams playing for three spots. Let’s go to the schedules for each of those teams, shall we?
- Philadelphia: at Giants, Vikings at home and Cowboys at home
- New York (after tonight): Eagles at home, at Green Bay and at Washington
- Chicago: at Vikings, Jets at home and at Green Bay
- Tampa Bay: Detroit at home, Seattle at home and at New Orleans
- Green Bay: at New England (gulp), Giants at home and Bears at home
Here’s the part where I predict how each team will finish. Yeah, this will be fun to mock in three weeks.
Philadelphia looks to be sitting pretty. The Eagles will draw the Giants on a ridiculously short week (factoring in New York’s wild weekend of travel) and the Vikes at home. Those both feel like wins. Even if they only split those, it’s hard to see them losing to Dallas at home at the end. My gut tells me they’re an 11-5 squad that wins the NFC East.
Four teams. Two spots left.
Another obvious winner looks to be Tampa Bay. The Bucs should win their next two and may draw a Saints team with little to play for in week 17. Either way, it’s hard to see them finishing worse than 10-6.
I predicted the Giants to lose tonight, but actually I think they’ll win (made the pick on the hopes of an upset). The Giants should lose to Philly and defeat Washington, putting them at 10-5. But we’ll get back to that in a bit.
For the Bears, the next two feel like losses (not just saying that, either). The Vikings will be tough at home (wherever that home may be) and the Jets, while scuffling, are still much more talented than Chicago. That leaves the Bears at 9-6. Again, we’ll get back to that.
Finally, we come to the Packers. Next week is a loss. Sorry, gang, it just seems impossible that they’ll beat the Pats on the road. Green Bay is now 8-6, with the last two games to break down being the ones that ultimately decide their playoff fate. Drawing the Giants at home is a good matchup for Green Bay. That should be a win.
Under this scenario, the Giants finish 10-6. The Packers and Bears are both 9-6 heading into Jan. 2 at Lambeau. Definitely have to like Green Bay’s chances, but still, you never know. If the Packers win, the division – and the No. 3 spot – is theirs. If they lose, season over. The Bears would take the third spot, with the Giants serving as the No. 6 seed.
So, when you hear people say things like “division or bust,” really, they aren’t messing around. But even that scenario could be far-fetched as the Bears still need to lose their next two for the Packers to have a shot to steal the North. And the Packers will still have to defeat a dangerous Giants team that will be a lot healthier in two weeks.
In other words, a lot – scratch that: a WHOLE lot – of luck needs to come Green Bay’s way in the next few weeks in order to make a postseason spot a reality. And for a team as unlucky as the Packers, that seems unlikely.