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The Playoff Picture in Excruciating Detail

Dec. 14, 2016
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This one is worth savoring for awhile, and everyone should take a few minutes to sit back, relax, and bask in the glow of defeating the team full of bad guys who really earned a severe beat-down with their on-field conduct. Seattle behaved worse than the most belligerent toddlers, with several late hits and uncalled unnecessary roughness penalties, and seeing the Packers put them in timeout was just what we all needed to start the week off right.

The Seahawks lose games, but rarely get destroyed like they did on Sunday as the Packers put on an absolute clinic. The key to beating Seattle is to establish a lead early, and then get after Russell Wilson as they are forced to pass in an attempt to rally. A beautiful opening strike to Davante Adams on the outside, along with a fierce pass rush did just that. With weaker-than-normal corners and Earl Thomas out, the Packers did exactly what I thought they would do and repeatedly attacked them outside with Adams and Nelson to great effect. The prominent use of Ty Montgomery as running back made it all the sweeter, and Dom Capers blitzes and coverage schemes befuddling Russell Wilson was the cherry on the top.

The Playoff Picture

That said, while the Packer win was impressive, it actually did not do much for their playoff odds as they received no additional help. The Lions managed to hold off a pesky Bear team in a poorly played, penalty-riddled contest in which even the officiating crew couldn’t get the basics right

Washington stymied a late Eagle rally with a strip-sack of Carson Wentz. 

The Giants won an ugly low-scoring affair against Dallas that has some calling for the return of Tony Romo. And finally, the Buccaneers, who own a 5 game winning streak, finished off the crashing Saints. Had the Packers lost they would have been effectively eliminated from contention. It’s still a hard road for Green Bay despite the impressive win, but they do have some things going in their favor.

The Major Players

The important teams from a Packer perspective are: 

  1. The Detroit Lions, currently first in the NFC North
  2. The New York Giants, currently the first wild card
  3. Washington, not currently in the playoffs, but ahead of the Packers
  4. The Minnesota Vikings, currently tied with the Packers
  5. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, currently the second wild card

Let’s assume for a second that the Packers run the table and finish 10-6. What would that look like, and how likely is it that they would get in under that scenario? As it turns out, pretty likely. 

The easiest way for the Packers to get in would be to win the division. Detroit is almost unbelievably the 2-seed right now at 9-4, but in truth they are quite possibly the least impressive 2-seed in NFL history. They’ve trailed in the 4th quarter in 8 of their 9 wins and have only really impressed against cratering Saints team, and that win gets less impressive every day. The Packers finish at Chicago, at home against Minnesota, and at Detroit, while Detroit finishes at the New York Giants, at Dallas, and at home against the Packers. If the Packers run the table they will almost certainly eliminate the Vikings from contention by beating them, and personally put one more loss on the Lions while claiming the head-to-head tiebreaker. The Lions could still take the division if they won their road games against Dallas and New York, but that seems unlikely, and if they did happen to beat New York, that would pin another loss on the GIants, who also lose the head-to head tiebreaker to the Packers in the wild card race.

While the Packers’ best path is through the division, it’s not the only one. The Giants hold the first Wild Card at 9-4, but if Detroit were to run the table they would, necessarily, leave the Giants with at least one more loss as they play against each other, plus road games against Philadelphia and Washington to end the season. Should the Giants drop either of those games, the Packers would be right back in the thick of the wild card race. Tampa also sits ahead of the Packers in the final wild card spot, and Washington could still be a factor, which brings us to the Packers’ best friend. 

The Panthers 

Carolina is fresh off an impressive win over San Diego, and if they can maintain that level of play throughout the end of the season and if star linebacker Luke Kuechly can return from his concussion, they can make things much easier on Green Bay. Carolina finishes at Washington, home against Atlanta, and at Tampa Bay, and every Packer fan should cheering for the Panthers to run the table. If the reigning NFC champions can pull it off it opens up the very real possibility that the Packers could qualify for the playoffs even at 9-7. Tampa will have a hard time with Dallas and Washington could easily drop an additional game to the Giants. It is even possible to win the division at 9-7 if the Lions lose out, as the Vikings are not in a good position to win a 3-way intra-division tiebreaker.

The Packers are still underdogs, but the interconnected nature of their opponents’ schedules has them very much alive. They’ve put together a truly impressive surge, and with their most recent win, they’ve shown what they can do against the NFL’s best. The longer this goes on, the more this season starts to resemble 2010. Football Outsiders currently has them making the playoffs about 40% of the time with 

FiveThirtyEight slightly more pessimistic at 31%.

This probably won’t be settled until week 17, but they’ve now jumped over the biggest hurdle, showed themselves to be real contenders, and just need to keep it up. 

Who are we fans of this week? 

Carolina - A win over Washington would just about eliminate them as a problem for Green Bay.

Dallas - The Cowboys can never be the Packers’ best friends just on principle, but after the Panthers, they are a clear second as they face Tampa this week and Detroit the following week. It may be hard for a Packer fan to cheer for Dallas, but common enemies make strange bedfellows.

New York Giants - The Giants face Detroit, and no matter how this game goes some Packer competition will get a win, but on the other hand, a Packer competitor is also assured a loss, and a loss for the Lions is more desirable than a loss for the Giants at this point.

Indianapolis - Andrew Luck and company can put some distance between the Packers and Vikings if the can outscore a bad Vikings offense. 

Finally...

If you have not yet seen big number 99 Christian Ringo take a running start and do something very bad to Seattle’s left guard, do yourself a favor and watch this.

The Sports section of the Shepherd Express is brought to you by Miller Time Pub.