GREEN BAY—It’s possible Sunday’s game against the Carolina Panthers could decide the NFC North title when it’s all said and done.
OK, it’s not likely. But it is possible.
Make no mistake, the most important remaining games for the Packers in their quest to win the division for a fourth straight year will be those against the Bears (Nov. 9), Vikings (Nov. 23) and Lions (Dec. 28).
Chances are those head-to-head matchups and the Packers’ overall division record will determine their title hopes. Green Bay is 2-1 through the first half of its division schedule with a loss to Detroit, which serves as the current tiebreaker with both teams at 4-2 overall. Chicago is one game back at 3-3, followed by Minnesota at 2-4.
Plenty can happen with 10 games to play, of course, so let’s have some fun. What if the Packers tie for the division crown and the head-to-head marks and division records don’t settle the issue? Maybe the Packers beat the Lions in the season-ending rematch and both teams finish, for example, 12-4 and 5-1 in the division (or something like that). Heck, if the Bears beat the Packers next month and the Packers beat the Lions in Week 17, it’s entirely plausible the three teams could finish with identical overall, head-to-head and division records.
In either case, the next tiebreaker is games against common opponents, and Carolina is a common opponent against whom the Lions and Bears have already lost.
So, if Sunday’s game carries any more significance than it already does in such a tight division race, that’s it. The Packers can give themselves an early leg up in common opponents, just in case.
If such a tiebreaker scenario sounds far-fetched, remember this: It was only three years ago a division title was decided this very way.
In 2011, three teams tied for first place in the AFC West at 8-8, and head-to-head and division records didn’t break the deadlock. A better record in common games for Denver, by one win, gave the Broncos the division title over San Diego and Oakland. That was the Tim Tebow-quarterbacked team that beat Pittsburgh in overtime in the wild-card round to advance to the second playoff weekend.
This year, the NFC North has been paired with the NFC South and AFC East in the league’s scheduling formula. Every team in Green Bay’s division is playing Carolina, New Orleans, Atlanta, Tampa Bay, Miami, New England, Buffalo and the New York Jets.
Those are the eight common opponents (outside of division games), should that tiebreaker be needed. The Packers, Lions and Bears have all beaten the Jets. As mentioned, Detroit and Chicago already lost to Carolina. They’ve both also already lost to Buffalo, whom the Packers play in December, the same month they play Atlanta, whom the Bears and Vikings have already beaten.
For what it’s worth, against those eight common opponents, the Packers are 2-0 thus far, with wins over the Jets and Dolphins. Chicago is 2-2, with Detroit and Minnesota both 1-2.
There’s a long way to go, and taking care of business in the aforementioned three remaining division games is a must or the rest of this discussion won’t matter. Odds are the significance of Sunday’s game will be a win or a loss on the overall record, not additionally a factor in a somewhat convoluted tiebreaker scenario that determines the Packers’ postseason fate.
Then, again, who knows?
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