Packers: Four games that will decide seeding in the NFC

Green Bay Packers, Allen Lazard (Photo by Todd Olszewski/Getty Images)
Green Bay Packers, Allen Lazard (Photo by Todd Olszewski/Getty Images) /

As we strut our way into mid-December we find ourselves in the business end of the season and for the third straight year, the Green Bay Packers are in the mix for the top seed in the NFC.

Maybe it loses a little bit of meaning after they finished top of the conference last season, ensuring the playoffs went through Lambeau, and still were unable to get the job done.

They’ve also got a pretty big confidence booster in the form of a road win in Arizona and no distinct regular-season road loss to worry about such as San Francisco in 2019 and Tampa Bay in 2020.

Finally, the wildcard round matchup for the #2 seed in the expanded playoff tends to be a pretty routine game. When you look at the standings, a home game against the likes of Washington, San Francisco or Philadelphia doesn’t look overly intimidating.

So by and large the #1 seed may not mean quite as much to the Packers this season, but it’s still something to play for over the next month now that a playoff spot is all but secured.

The contending teams

The 10-2 Arizona Cardinals are currently in pole position with the Packers and Buccaneers trailing one game behind. It would take a strong finish, but we can’t rule out a late-season surge from Mike McCarthy’s 8-4 Dallas Cowboys either.

It’s very important to note that the Packers hold the tiebreaker in every playoff scenario between the top three, regardless of if it’s a two-team or three-team tiebreaker, Green Bay has the edge.

Before we take a look at the four crucial upcoming games to determine seeding, we must accept that upset losses are a real thing that can happen to any team at any time.

All of these teams have been upset at some point this season. The fighting Taylor Heinickes sank the Buccaneers’ ship, a reborn Cam Newton stormed through Arizona and Kirk Cousins caught about 30 breaks to squeeze past the Packers.

But at the end of the day, it’s the team who gets it done on the biggest stage that will earn the NFC’s top spot.

The four games that will decide seeding in the NFC

Bills @ Buccaneers – Sunday, 4:25pm ET

Starting off with this week’s action, Buffalo are by far the best opponent remaining on the Buccaneers’ schedule. Much to the advantage of the reigning champs, the Bills will be on the road in an unfamiliar stadium on a short week.

After this game the road is relatively simple for Tom Brady and the Bucs. They’ll have a Sunday night affair with the New Orleans Saints who have admittedly had their number in three of their four matchups in the Brady era.

After that they’ll play the struggling Panthers twice, with a trip to New York to face the Jets sandwiched in between. If the Buccaneers are going to lose at any point between now and the playoffs, it’ll be on Sunday afternoon.

Rams @ Cardinals – Monday, 8:15pm ET

Staying in this week’s slate of games, the NFC West is cooking up some more primetime popcorn for us. The Cardinals’ offensive core of Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins is back after a lengthy hiatus.

The Cardinals have easily the toughest remaining schedule of the three, which should be interesting considering they’re a game ahead.

Kliff Kingsbury’s Cardinals are slight favorites in this one for three reasons: they’re at home, they’ve already beaten the Rams, and it’s been two months since Los Angeles has beaten a team not named the Lions, Texans or Jaguars.

A Rams victory would presumably put the Packers on top of the NFC for the time being, and it would tighten the gap atop the NFC West where the Rams are far from out of the race.

Packers @ Ravens – Week 15

This game is one we’ve been circling since the schedule came out as a less-than-ideal late-season matchup.

The Ravens haven’t quite been the regular-season juggernaut we’ve made ourselves familiar with in recent years, while the Packers… have been. Considering it’ll be played at M&T Bank Stadium, the spread for this game could legitimately be a pick ‘em.

There aren’t many other hurdles for the Packers to jump. We might be a little bit nervous about that home date with the Vikings in early January, but Green Bay should coast past the Bears this weekend, the Lions in Week 18, and it would be sacrilegious for the Packers to lose in a snowy Lambeau on Christmas Day.

Cardinals @ Cowboys – Week 17

This is the last game that will have a big say in playoff seeding, and it might be the only remaining game in which the Cardinals won’t be favored.

On the other side, this is Dallas’ only remaining game outside the NFC East. The chances they win out are actually pretty good, and they’d be right in the mix for the playoff bye.

If the Cardinals jump the hurdle of the Rams this weekend, this is the game Packers fans will have circled for the much-needed Arizona loss.