A closer look at the Green Bay Packers’ playoff scenarios entering Week 14.
For all this team’s flaws, that’s a pretty comfortable position to be in after two years left out of the postseason. But with four games remaining, there’s still a wide range of plausible outcomes for the Packers’ regular season.
Here’s a breakdown of some of the ways the rest of the season could play out for Green Bay and the rest of the NFC contenders. Click here to see the NFL’s tiebreaking rules. Credit to FiveThirtyEight and the ESPN NFL Playoff Machine for helping with this exercise.
The NFC Playoff Picture
Three teams sit at 10-2 atop the conference:
- New Orleans Saints (NFC South)
- San Francisco 49ers (NFC West)
- Seattle Seahawks (NFC West)
The Packers are the only team at 9-3, just one game behind. These four teams have the most realistic chances at a first-round bye.
The wild-card spots, meanwhile, will likely be a combination of the second-place teams in the NFC West (49ers or Seahawks) and NFC North (Packers or 8-4 Minnesota Vikings). The NFC East will almost certainly place their division winner in the No. 4 seed and not have a wild-card representative.
Priority 1: Win the NFC North
FiveThirtyEight gives the Packers a 71 percent chance of winning the division. That’s due largely to their one-game lead over the Vikings, and their spotless 3-0 division record.
There are many paths to clinching the division, but the two simplest are:
- Win any three of the remaining four games.
- Win two of the remaining four games, including the Vikings game in Week 16.
If they lose three games, then it will get trickier. They’ll need the Vikings to lose at least two and potentially three games, and the 6-6 Chicago Bears could actually get involved if they win out in that scenario, too.
It’s also technically possible for the Packers to win the division at 9-7. Let’s not plan on that, though.
Priority 2: Steal a first-round bye
This is more complicated.
FiveThirtyEight gives it a 20 percent chance of happening. It all depends on the Seahawks, Saints, and 49ers defeating each other in certain ways and losing certain games to other opponents.
The simplest ways to guarantee a first-round bye are:
- Packers win out, and Saints lose to either the 49ers or Carolina Panthers.
- Packers go 3-1, and Saints lose to both the 49ers and the Panthers.
Because only one of the 49ers or Seahawks will win their division, the Packers don’t need to jump them in order to get a bye. And it’s going to be more difficult to leapfrog those teams than it is the Saints, due to the fact that they each have 7-1 conference records.
For that reason, when the Saints face off against the 49ers next week, Packers fans should be rooting for a 49ers victory. That would raise the Packers’ chances for a first-round bye from 20 percent to 34 percent, according to FiveThirtyEight.
Other scenarios that are technically possible, but not likely, include:
- The 12-4 Packers could end up with the No. 1 seed.
- The 11-5 Packers could end up with the No. 2 seed.
How to secure the No. 6 seed
The Packers could still lose the division to the Vikings. They would remain very well-positioned for a wild-card spot, though, because the NFC isn’t very deep.
Here are the most likely scenarios:
- Packers go 2-2, and Rams lose once.
- Packers go 1-3, Rams lose twice, and Bears lose once.
And the wild-card could still be possible if the Packers go 0-4 in these final four games. Again, though, let’s not plan on that.
It’s still pretty early to be looking at these scenarios, and the sheer volume of potential outcomes can make this type of exercise overwhelming. Still, I hope this article can help guide you on who to root for over the next week and as the season concludes.