As dumb as this sounds, the 5-6 Green Bay Packers now have a pretty clear path to the playoffs. That’s thanks largely to the NFC North — arguably — being the worst division in the NFC.
The Packers have to win, of course. They don’t necessarily have to win out, though. The Packers could take the division at 9-7 and that seems to be the most likely scenario, other than the one where they just go back to playing like they did during their four-game losing streak.
The Detroit Lions currently lead the NFC North at 7-4. That’s a two-game lead on the Packers, but the Lions have the toughest road of any of the three contenders.
Detroit has games remaining at New Orleans, at the Giants and at Dallas. If they come away with one win among those three games, they’ll be doing well (or at least about as we expect). The Lions also have Chicago and the Packers at home. The latter comes in week 17 and that may well decide the division.
The Packers have beaten the Lions once already and even if they go into that week 17 game one game back, a win there gives them the tiebreaker via the season sweep.
Let’s say the Lions lose to New York and Dallas and beat New Orleans and Chicago. They’re 9-6 going into week 17.
The Packers get Houston, Seattle and Minnesota at home. In between the Seahawks and Vikings, they go to Chicago. We fully expect Seattle to kill the Packers, but those other games are very winnable. If that scenario plays out, the Packers are 8-7 going into the Lions game. Most likely, a win and they’re in.
The Vikings have the easiest remaining schedule of the three teams here. They play Dallas, at Jacksonville, Indianapolis, at Green Bay, Chicago.
Let’s say they lose to Dallas this weekend. That evens them with the Packers, providing the Packers beat Houston at home. Then all Green Bay needs to do to move ahead of the Vikings — even if they lose to Seattle — is beat them in week 16. Although that would even the season series, the Vikings hold no tiebreakers over anyone in the North. They’ve already lost to the Lions twice, the Bears once and a loss to the Packers gives them four division losses.
If anyone needs to win out, it’s probably Minnesota.
Now, whether we’d actually be excited about the Packers squeaking into the playoffs at 9-7 is another question entirely, but it’s definitely possible.
And just for good measure, before we get too far ahead of ourselves…