December is the all-deciding month in the NFL. If your team hasn’t been eliminated from the playoff picture until now, it all comes down to those four or five games that are played in this month.
What is the road to the playoffs?
First, let’s have a look at the remaining games and let’s keep in mind they have an 8-3 record. More likely than not (99% chance), three wins will be enough to ensure a playoff spot, but four wins will probably be enough for a home game in the first round of the playoffs. If they win all five remaining games, they have a 65% chance of getting a first-round bye, according to playoffstatus.com.
What are the remaining games?
This weekend, they’ll play the 2-9 Giants, followed (at home) by the 2-9 Redskins and the 6-6 Bears. For the last two games, they’ll travel to the Vikings and Lions.
The first two games are must-wins, there is no doubt about that. The Packers are better than both the Giants and the Redskins and they need to win this games. They also should win against the Bears, although that will be a tougher game.
If they win all three of them, they still have an ok chance of getting the first-round bye.
The game against the Vikings will be crucial. Not only will it decide which team gets home field advantage in the NFC North, but if the Packers want any chance of getting this first-round bye, they must win this game. The last game against the Lions is also a must-win.
Now, let’s have a look at the most realistic options:
The #5 or #6 seed
Let’s make it short: With the remaining schedule, the Packers will be in the playoffs. Even if they fall behind the Vikings, the #6 playoff spot is pretty safe with the 6-5 Rams being the first team from the outside looking in. The Rams would need to win two more games than the Packers to have the same record and three to be one game in front, but they play the Seahawks and (!) the 49ers besides the Cardinals (twice) and the Cowboys. The 6-6 Bears have the #8 spot currently, and they play the Cowboys, Chiefs, Packers and Vikings – they won’t “overtake” the Packers as well.
So even if they lose three of the remaining games, the’ll probably make the playoffs. If they fall behind the Vikings, they’ll have the #6 seed.
The #3 seed
The Packers, but also the Vikings will very likely have a 12-4 or even 13-3 record at the end of the season. The #3 spot should be safe for one NFC North team, especially because the 9-2 Seahawks and the 10-1 49ers can only have one spot in front of the Packers/Vikings, because they play in the same division. So even if the Seahawks and 49ers have better records, only one of them will be in the #1 or #2 seed, the other one will have the #5 (wildcard) seed. The #3 spot should also be safe, because the 6-6 Cowboys (#4) can’t go better than 10-6 at the end of the season, which is not unlikely with the remaining games against the Bears, Rams, Eagles and Redskins but then again not safe at all.
It basically comes down to the game Packers @ Vikings, although luckily for the Packers, the Vikings still have to play the Seahawks on Monday Night Football. So what are the options for the #3 seed?
If the Packers win against the Vikings, they have the tiebraker, so the Vikings would need to win more games than the Packers.
If the Packers lose against the Vikings, but win against the Lions and Bears, they still have the tiebreaker, because they lost only one divison game.
In both cases an even record would be enough for the #3 seed. Again, the Vikings still play the Seahwks and if they lose and the Packers win, the Packers “only” need to win against the Redskins, Lions and Bears to ensure the #3 seed. According to playoffstatus.com, the #3 seed is the most likely outcome for the Pack and obviously, sitting there, they control their own destiny for this spot.
So, watch Monday Night Football and root for the Seahawks, if you want the Packers to have a homefield advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
The #2 seed
Now it gets tricky. The Packers would need to pass either the Forty-Niners (#1 currently) and Seahawks (#5, but better record) or the Saints (#2) to get a bye in the playoffs. They still have a 25% chance of doing that, but they don’t control their destiny for this seed.
If the Packers want to get the #2 seed, the Seahawks need to lose one more game than the Packers and the 49ers need to lose three more (!), which is not likely, but they still play the 9-2 Ravens, the 10-2 Saints and the 9-2 Seahawks.
What does this mean?
The 49ers and Seahawks will steal each other one game, which doesn’t really matter for the Packers, because they need to pass both of them. But the 49ers also play the Saints, which means one of the top two seeds will lose at least one game. Again, it wouldn’t help that much if the Saints won, because the Packers still needed to pass the 49ers and Seahawks, but if the Saints lose, the Packers can equal the record.
Besides from the 49ers, the Saints still play the Colts (6-5), Titans (6-5) and Panthers (5-6). The Colts and Titans both have the same record as the 6-5 Steelers, which currently have the #6 seed in the AFC. So both teams are still in the hunt for a playoff spot.
To be honest: The #2 seed is not likely for the Packers, but it is more realistic to get it via the Saints spot. If they lose against the 49ers and one other team, the Packers control their destiny for the #2 seed if they win out.
So where will the Packers be at the end of December?
Most likely, the Packers will have the #3 spot and play the #6 Vikings at home in the first round of the playoffs. A lot of calculating and what-if’s for a result and a seed that the Packers currently have…Max Sachs is an international Packers fan from Germany. As a part of the Packers Germany, he tries to convince everyone around him to cheer for the greatest franchise on earth - or to start with, for American football in general. You can find him on Twitter @KaesekopfDE (the german translation for cheesehead).