Breaking down the Packers’ path to the NFC’s top seed.
The Green Bay Packers currently sit atop the NFC with an 11-3 record with just two games left to play.
The top seed is more important this year than in the past. The NFL changed the playoff format this past offseason to allow a seventh team to make the postseason, making it an odd number of teams who qualify.
That would mean the number of first-round byes would also have to be odd. Rather than having the top two seeds get byes, just the top team gets a bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
The Packers have been the top seed just once in the past 10 years: in 2011, when they went 15-1 and were the top seed in the NFC but lost in the divisional round to the New York Giants, who went on to win the Super Bowl over the New England Patriots.
During the Aaron Rodgers era, Green Bay has been to the NFC Championship game four times, and each time has been on the road. They are 1-3 in those games, with the last win coming in 2010 when the Packers went on to win Super Bowl XLV. Giving Rodgers home-field advantage in an NFC Championship game would be huge for the Packers’ path to the Super Bowl.
They are currently battling it out with the New Orleans Saints and the Seattle Seahawks for the No. 1 seed in the NFC. The Saints sit at 10-4 after their loss to the Kansas City Chiefs and the Seahawks are at 10-4 as well.
There are four scenarios where the Packers could clinch the No. 1 seed in the NFC. The first three are more realistic than the fourth, but we’ll talk about it just in case.
Scenario 1: Packers win out
If the Packers win their remaining two games, they will win the top seed. They would have the best record in the NFC at 13-3. Both the Saints and the Seahawks have four losses already, so by winning out, the Packers would claim the top spot and home-field advantage in the playoffs.
Scenario 2: Packers beat Titans; Rams beat Seahawks
The Packers will host the Tennessee Titans on Sunday night in Week 16. If they win, they would be one step closer to clinching the NFC’s top seed. They would also need the Los Angeles Rams to defeat the Seahawks. If that were to happen, the Packers would be 12-3. The best the Saints can do is to finish 12-4. With Green Bay owning the tiebreaker over the Saints, they would still be the top seed.
If the Rams were to defeat the Seahawks, both the Rams and Seahawks would be 10-5. The Packers would finish the season with the best record in the NFC regardless of what happens in Week 17.
Scenario 3: Packers beat Bears in Week 17
I think this may be the most realistic scenario out of all of them. The Packers’ run defense is still a struggle and they have to face Derrick Henry next week, who is tough enough to bring down, let alone in colder temps. The Packers may struggle next week.
But, then they will go to Chicago in Week 17 and play the Bears. Earlier this season, Green Bay defeated Chicago 41-25 in a game that was never close. I don’t expect it to be a big blowout again, but I think the Packers should be able to take care of business and handle the Bears.
If Green Bay wins in Week 17, it won’t matter what happened the previous week. If they lose in Week 16 to the Titans and beat the Bears in Week 17, the Packers would finish the season 12-4, owning the tiebreakers over the Saints and Seahawks, if they were both to finish 12-4 as well.
The Packers own the head-to-head tiebreaker over New Orleans and would have a better conference winning percentage than Seattle does, giving Green Bay the top seed.
Scenario 4: Packers lose out; Saints, Seahawks, and Rams all lose once
In this last scenario, the Packers stumble down the home stretch and drop to 11-5. But don’t lose hope. Even if they somehow drop their final two games, they can still take the top spot in the NFC. The Packers would be sitting at 11-5. They would need the Saints, Seahawks, and Rams all to lose at least one game in their final two weeks.
The Saints play at home vs. Minnesota and then at Carolina. A loss to Minnesota seems more likely, but a divisional game on the road could also trip them up. I don’t see the Saints dropping their last two games, so a win for Green Bay is a must.
The Seahawks play at home vs. the Rams, and then at San Francisco. I think Green Bay’s best bet here is to hope for the Rams to beat Seattle next week, and then lose in Week 17. The Rams, as previously mentioned, go to Seattle next week, then host the Arizona Cardinals in Week 17.
This scenario is not nearly as favorable to Green Bay as the previous three. Banking on the Saints to lose one of their final two games is tough enough, but hoping the Rams/Seahawks games fall the way they want is a tall order, so hopefully, they can at least win one of their final two games this season.
According to FiveThirtyEight, the Packers currently have a 79 percent chance to win the top spot in the NFC. I like the odds, but the NFL is a crazy league, and some very strange things have happened that have completely changed the playoff landscape before.
If you want to mess around with other possible scenarios throughout the league, try ESPN’s Playoff Machine. See where all the teams could land in the playoffs from what happens in the final two weeks of the NFL season.