To put it simply, the Green Bay Packers need to keep winning in order to make the playoffs, but let’s take a look at their competition.
The Packers are currently battling the Philadelphia Eagles (7-4), New York Giants (6-5), and Atlanta Falcons (6-5) for two wild card spots. The San Francisco 49ers (5-6) could also factor into the mix. The Packers (7-4) and Eagles are in the pole position at the moment, but the race is likely to be competitive down the stretch.
Of the Packers remaining schedule, it appears the team has two gimmes (and I use that term loosely after the loss to Tampa Bay earlier this season). Those games being at the horrific Chicago Bears (4-7) on 12/13 and vs. the Seattle Seahawks (4-7) on 12/27.
It’s hard to call a rivalry game like Chicago a gimme because it will be hotly contested, but after watching the Bears get utterly destroyed by a score of 36-10 at the hands of the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, it’s hard to see the Bears beating the Packers. The Bears went into Sunday knowing they had to win out to have any shot at the playoffs. With the loss, a lot of players are likely to mentally check out for the rest of the season.
The Seahawks four wins have come against St. Louis (twice), Detroit and Jacksonville. The only thing impressive about this team was the 41-0 dismantling of Jacksonville, and the only thing consistent about the Jaguars is that they’re inconsistent.
If the Packers win these two games, they’ll likely have to win one of their remaining games against the Baltimore Ravens (6-5) on 12/7, at the Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5) on 12/20 and at the Arizona Cardinals (7-4) on 1/3.
Next week’s game against an up-and-down Baltimore team seems to be the Packers best chance. The Ravens once-vaunted defense is much like the Chicago Bears’ – old. That’s not to suggest they don’t have playmakers, but the unit isn’t the fearsome group it used to be and like most teams, the Ravens have some injury problems – starting cornerback Fabian Washington is likely out for the year and starting linebacker Terrell Suggs has missed the past two games with a sprained knee.
Suggs could return for the Ravens’ matchup with Packers after missing two games. However, if the sprained knees of the Packers’ Jordy Nelson and Jermichael Finley were any indication, Suggs could be out three to four weeks.
Another wild card in the Packers’ playoff chances will be the Arizona game. It’s conceivable the Cardinals will have nothing to play for in the last game of the season. They currently hold a two-game lead in their division, although they face the Vikings next week and travel to San Francisco the following week. Those two games will go a long way towards deciding the Cardinals’ fate.
So, let’s take a look at the rest of the Packers’ competitors.
The Eagles have the toughest remaining schedule. They play at Atlanta (6-5), at New York Giants (6-5), vs. San Francisco (5-6), vs. Denver (7-4) and at Dallas (8-3). All of these teams have realistic playoff aspirations, so each game will likely be a dog fight.
It’s very plausible, however, that the Eagles will win at least three of their remaining games. Atlanta has a ton of injuries, the Giants are playing bad football and the Eagles simply have more talent than San Francisco.
The Falcons, meanwhile, face an uphill battle to make the playoffs. As I mentioned, the team is battling injuries. Both quarterback Matt Ryan and running back Michael Turner were lost in the Falcons’ win over Tampa Bay, on Sunday. Turner’s injury is a recurring ankle sprain and if he does come back, it appears he will be at less than 100 percent. Ryan hurt his toe, but the severity of that injury isn’t known.
Even with both players, the Falcons face a daunting task over the next two weeks when the Eagles (7-4) and Saints (10-0) come to town. The remainder of the Falcons’ schedule – at New York Jets (5-6), vs. Buffalo (4-7), at Tampa Bay (1-10) – is winnable if they have their key players, but if they lose their next two games the remaining three may essentially be moot.
The Giants face a similar situation as the Falcons. They have injuries, yes, but more importantly, the Giants are just playing bad football. This is a team out of sync on both sides of the ball, which was evident in their 26-6 drubbing at the hands of the Broncos.
Like the Falcons, the Giants face two tough opponents in the next two weeks – Dallas (8-3) and Philadelphia (7-4). If there’s any consolation, it’s that both games are at home. Down the stretch, the Giants are at Washington (3-8), vs. Carolina (4-7) and at Minnesota (10-1).
If the Giants can salvage a win in the next two weeks, they are likely to remain in the thick of the race. There’s a real chance the Vikings won’t be playing for anything in the final week of the season, and the Giants should be able to handle Minnesota’s second string, making the team’s last three games very winnable.
However, if the Giants continue playing the way they have recently, we might as well stick a fork in them now.
Although it’s going to take a lot for the 49ers to make the playoffs, it isn’t out of the question. They have three gimme games left – at Seattle (4-7), vs. Detroit (2-9) and at St. Louis (1-10). If they lose any of those games, the dream is over.
However, if they win those three games and pull an upset vs. Arizona (7-4) or at Philadelphia (7-4), they have a real shot. In fact, if the 49ers beat Arizona, they may have a real shot at winning the NFC West.
At this moment, the Packers and Eagles seem like a good bet to be the NFC’s wild card teams, but don’t count out the 49ers just yet. Fortunately for Green Bay, their win over the 49ers gives them the tiebreaker over San Francisco.
The simplest scenario for the Packers is to win out, but in lieu of that, it’s bound to be a wild race until the end.