By now, everyone’s heard a sports radio or television personality question the value of the top two playoff seeds. It’s a novel idea, but nothing more. It’s not the first time you’ve heard it, but sports analysts often ignore large sample sizes in favor of what happened yesterday.
The last two Super Bowls were won by the Giants and the Packers, fourth and sixth seeds, respectively. Both championships were fantastic accomplishments by teams that proved to be better than their regular season records would indicate. However, this shouldn’t be confused with a model shift. The postseason bye week matters and it helps those who get them.
Over the last 20 Super Bowls, the winning team has been a top two seed 13 times. Further emphasizing how special Green Bay’s 2010 Super Bowl run was, only four champions over that span were wildcards. The argument that playoff seeding doesn’t matter or that the bye week hurts teams is clearly uninformed and ridiculous. Every team should want those first two playoff slots.
As of the writing of this article, Green Bay is 8-4 and holds the third seed in the NFC playoff bracket. That could change if the Giants win their Monday night matchup with the Redskins. However, even in that scenario the Packers wouldn’t be far removed from the number two seed.
The 49ers, currently holders of the second seed, have a slightly superior record at 8-3-1. While they also hold the head-to-head tie-breaker over the Packers, their tied game with the Rams virtually guarantees that no team will have the same record. San Francisco’s remaining opponents combine for 25-23. Their biggest challenges the rest of the regular season will be on the road at New England directly followed by a trip to Seattle.
As for the aforementioned Giants, they’ll either be a game back of the Packers or ahead via tiebreaker following their game in Washington. After that, their remaining opponents have a combined record of 28-20. Just like San Francisco, the Giants have their two toughest games back-to-back on the road in Atlanta and Baltimore, respectively.
Then there’s Chicago. By virtue of the Packers’ week 2 win over the Bears in Green Bay, the Packers hold a tentative lead in the NFC North. While a lot can happen over the last four weeks, it looks like the winner of the week 15 rematch at Soldier Field will take the division.
Of all the second seed contenders, the Packers have the easiest remaining schedule. While the remaining opponents for Green Bay and Chicago each combine for a 22-26, the Packers play one more game at home. On paper, only the game at Chicago stands out as difficult. The other opponents are all well below the .500 mark and have nothing left to play for. With Clay Matthews and Charles Woodson set to return soon, the Packers may very well sweep their last four games.
If we assume that happens, the margin for error on the part of the 49ers, Giants, and Bears becomes small to nonexistent. Any loss for the 49ers would result in the Packers jumping them. The Giants would also need to win out, including the Monday night game against the Redskins. Finally, the Bears would have both an inferior record and the short end of the head-to-head tie-breaker. They, too, would be out of luck.Even if Green Bay drops one of their last four, they stand a reasonable chance of snaring a playoff bye. The Giants are capable of beating anybody, but they’re just as capable of losing games they shouldn’t. Two losses over their remaining schedule wouldn’t surprise anyone. The 49ers are better than Seattle and comparable to New England, but it’s not impossible they drop those back-to-back. The Bears would either need to win out or lose only once and not to the Packers.
As Aaron Rodgers repeated ad nauseam over the past two weeks, everything’s “right in front” of Green Bay. Their own challenges are manageable while those of their rivals are considerable. It is from these situations that the true championship contenders separate themselves from the herd. We’ll know on which side the Packers find themselves in only a few weeks’ time.