GREEN BAY—The Packers control their own destiny with regard to the NFC North title and a first-round playoff bye.
They also haven’t actually earned a playoff spot yet.
Having two such disparate possibilities with just two games left in the regular season encapsulates the tightness of the NFC in 2014.
With that in mind, here’s the rundown on Week 16:
Strangely enough, the Packers (10-4) can actually clinch a playoff spot without beating the Buccaneers on Sunday.
If the Eagles lose to the Redskins on Saturday and the Cowboys beat the Colts on Sunday, the Packers will be playing in January regardless of how they fare in Tampa Bay.
That’s not the most appealing way to garner an invitation to the postseason party, of course, and it becomes easier to lock up that playoff spot if the Packers beat the Bucs.
With a Green Bay win, the Packers would need either the Eagles (9-5) to lose or the Cowboys (10-4) to win to be assured of getting in. Just one of those other games would need to go Green Bay’s way, but not both.
In any event, Packers fans should root for the Eagles to lose to the Redskins and for the Cowboys to knock off the Colts.
(If siding with the Cowboys against an AFC team seems odd, it’s because the Packers’ chances of getting a wild-card spot are greater if Dallas wins the NFC East and not Philadelphia, because the Packers hold a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Eagles should it come down to those two teams for a final playoff spot. A bit confusing, yes. But if the Eagles lose on Saturday and the Packers win early on Sunday, guaranteeing Green Bay’s playoff bid, then feel free to root against the Cowboys late Sunday afternoon.)
Regarding the NFC North, the loss last week to Buffalo extinguished any chance the Packers had of winning the division without having to beat the Lions (10-4) in Week 17.
That defeat, however, also established this possibility – the Lions can clinch the division without having to beat the Packers if Detroit beats the Bears and if Green Bay loses to the Bucs.
So, if the Packers are struggling in Tampa Bay and you’re scoreboard watching, it’s best to cheer on the Bears against the Lions.
In the bigger picture, the most important thing to know is this: If the Packers win their final two games, they will win the NFC North, earn a first-round bye, and be no worse than the No. 2 seed in the NFC. That’s the part the Packers control.
As for the chances of getting the No. 1 seed, there’s only one way. The Packers must win twice, while the Seahawks (10-4) must beat the Cardinals (11-3) this week and lose to the Rams next week. Arizona would lock up the NFC West title plus the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout with a win over Seattle on Sunday night.
Given those possibilities, your rooting interest in the NFC West showdown is up to you. If you’d rather see the Packers still have a chance at the No. 1 seed, then pull for the Seahawks. But, if you’re willing to concede the top spot to Arizona and you’d prefer that Seattle be in the playoffs as a wild card having to go on the road, then get behind the Cardinals.
Kinda seems like an easy choice, doesn’t it?
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