After losing back-to-back games as the favored team, the Green Bay Packers responded with back-to-back road wins to get back up to .500, including a 23-point blowout over the Minnesota Vikings in prime time this past Sunday.
The Packers now occupy the No. 7 seed in the NFC playoff picture, and a Week 18 victory over the Chicago Bears would secure them their first playoff spot since 2021.
In fact, they could move up to the No. 6 seed if the Los Angeles Rams lose to the NFC-best San Francisco 49ers, due to their head-to-head victory over the Rams in Week 9.
But there is a way – in fact, two ways – for the Packers to secure the No. 7 seed even if they lose to the Bears this weekend.
ESPN FPI gives the Packers a 57.53% chance of beating the Bears and a 63.8% chance of qualifying for the playoffs. So even with a loss, they are not totally out of it, with their chance at the No. 7 seed dropping to just under 15%. It's not completely far-fetched.
In both scenarios, the Seattle Seahawks would have to lose to the Arizona Cardinals and thus also drop to 8-9, and the Vikings would have to not beat the Detroit Lions and thus not improve to 8-9. The Packers would then either need the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or the New Orleans Saints to lose.
When it comes to multi-team logjams for Wild Card spots, divisional tiebreakers trump all. So first things first: the NFC North. The Packers and Bears would both be 8-9, and both would have 3-3 divisional records. But the Packers would finish ahead of the Bears due to having a 6-6 mark in common games, compared to the Bears' 5-7 record.
The reason why the Vikings cannot be 8-9 in this scenario is because they too would be 3-3 within the NFC North, and when lined up with both the Packers and the Bears, they would possess a 5-5 mark in common games; the Packers would be 5-5 and the Bears would be 4-6. The Vikings would then win the tiebreaker over the Packers due to having a 7-5 record within the NFC, compared to the Packers' 6-6 mark.
So even a tie with the Lions would suffice; the Packers simply cannot have the Vikings at 8-9.
A Seattle loss creates a situation in which there is a three-way Wild Card tie at 8-9, since the second place team in the NFC South is guaranteed to be 8-9 unless both the Buccaneers and Saints win in Week 18 (which is why Green Bay would need one of the two to lose).
Should the Buccaneers lose to the Carolina Panthers, they will be the second place team, irrespective of how the game between the Saints and Atlanta Falcons turns out.
While the Buccaneers did beat the Packers head-to-head, a three-way tie renders that result meaningless. The Buccaneers, Seahawks, and Packers would all own 6-6 NFC records, so the tiebreaker would be strength of victory. That tiebreaker belongs to Green Bay.
Now let's say Tampa Bay wins, but New Orleans loses. That sets up a scenario in which Atlanta finishes in second place in the NFC South, thus inserting them into a three-way 8-9 tie with Green Bay and Seattle.
Once again, the Falcons did beat the Packers head-to-head, but the three-way tie renders that result useless. The Falcons would only have a 5-7 NFC record, so the tiebreaker between the Seahawks and Packers would again be strength of victory. And once again, the Packers would win that tiebreaker.
One question fans may have is why a third place team in the NFC South, such as a potential 8-9 Saints team, wouldn't be factored into a potential Wild Card tie. The reason for that is simple: a division cannot send a third place team to the playoffs while the second place team in the same division stays home.
This is the very reason why the Packers can't afford to have the Vikings sitting at 8-9 if they lose to the Bears, and it's also why the Bears, even at 8-9, have no path to the postseason.
All things considered, the Packers' best bet is to continue their Bears "ownership" with what would be their eighth straight win in this rivalry at Lambeau Field. But the door is not closed on an 8-9 Green Bay team locking up the No. 7 seed.
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