The Green Bay Packers are holding on to hope for a playoff berth after winning in Philadelphia, and are the monkey wrench lurking in the Lions’ hopes.
Last Thursday featured Detroit winning yet another game in dramatic, close fashion, sweeping the Vikings. That result effectively gave the Lions (7-4) a two-game lead over the Vikings (6-5) by clinching the tiebreaker, but the Packers could upset that balance.
Green Bay already beat the Lions this year, and if they can get to the weeks 16 and 17 matchups with the Vikings and Lions in good shape, they have a chance to decide it on the field. The Packers will have the tiebreaker advantage over both Minnesota and Detroit if they can beat those teams, based on either head-to-head or division record.
To make that a reality, they must make up one game on the Lions over the next four weeks. Detroit is going to be an underdog in 3 of the next 4 games (at New Orleans, at the Giants, at Dallas), so the possibility of that happening are very real. The Packers need to beat Houston this week, and win one of the two games that follow (vs Seattle, at Chicago). Based on opponent, you would say Chicago is more likely, but Seattle is in Lambeau.
Here’s a look at the standings in the NFC, including division and conference records, for all teams within 2 games of a playoff spot:
and here are the remaining schedules for the teams:
#1 SEED AND FIRST ROUND BYES
Dallas is in the driver’s seat for the #1 seed after Seattle’s loss. Going 3-2 clinches the top seed for sure, and it may not even take that.
The contest for the other bye is much tighter. Seattle still has the half-game lead. Atlanta has a favorable schedule with a two-game Rams-49ers stretch coming up, but Seattle only has two road games left, and one of them is against the 49ers. Atlanta likely needs to get to 11-5 to put pressure on the Seahawks.
I would be surprised if the Lions got the #2 seed, as they haven’t been dominant and face by far the toughest schedule of the three other current division leaders.
It looks like the NFC East should have both, but this week show us whether there will be any intrigue. Remember that the 2nd place team in the North and South need to pass Washington or the Giants. The chances of having two teams from either of those divisions at more than 9 wins are very slim.
This week’s game for Washington at Arizona is key. Washington likely needs to go 3-2. A road win would basically eliminate Arizona. An Arizona win, on the other hand, pulls the Cardinals within one game of Washington, with the tiebreaker.
The other candidates have tough games as well, with Minnesota (vs Dallas), New Orleans (vs Detroit), Tampa Bay (at San Diego), and Green Bay (vs Houston) having swing games. The Eagles are still alive, but in tiebreaker trouble with a 3-6 conference mark.
Atlanta only has a one game lead, and the tiebreakers are still up in the air. But they look to be a pretty strong favorite. The Bucs and Saints have to play each other twice, so the best thing for Atlanta would be a split there. New Orleans and Tampa Bay have tougher schedules over the remainder of games.