GREEN BAY—Ten of the 16 NFL games in Week 17 have postseason implications of some sort, but for the Packers’ sake, there’s only one game aside from their own that can affect their playoff position.
Not surprisingly, it’s the Seahawks’ game.
If the Packers are able to beat the Lions to win the NFC North and secure a first-round bye, they will enter the playoffs no worse than the No. 2 seed in the NFC.
Green Bay’s only chance for the No. 1 seed is for the Rams to beat the Seahawks in Seattle, a contest that will be going on simultaneously with Packers-Lions. If the Packers and Seahawks, both 11-4, finish with the same record, Seattle wins the tiebreaker based on its Week 1 win over Green Bay.
Seattle has won five straight and shows no signs of slowing down, but you never know. It’s the NFL.
So then, what’s the Packers’ playoff fate should they not get the No. 1 or 2 seed? It’ll be the No. 6.
That’s a potentially precipitous fall, which only underscores the importance of Sunday’s NFC North showdown at Lambeau Field.
If the Packers lose, they can’t even get the No. 5 seed because they’d lose the tiebreaker with the other wild-card team from the NFC West, whether it’s Seattle or Arizona.
Given that, you may be wondering how come Arizona’s game against San Francisco doesn’t affect the Packers. It’s complicated, but here goes:
If the Packers win, the Seahawks lose and the Cardinals win, Green Bay and Arizona get the two byes with 12-4 records, and the Packers win a “common games” tiebreaker with the Cardinals for the No. 1 seed.
Green Bay and Arizona will have played four common opponents, the minimum for that tiebreaker to be applied (after head-to-head and conference record don’t snap the deadlock, which they wouldn’t in this case). The four common opponents are Philadelphia, Detroit, Seattle and Atlanta.
If the Packers and Cardinals are both 12-4, the Packers’ 3-2 record against those opponents would trump the Cardinals’ 2-3 mark.
But, if the Packers and Cardinals both lose and are the two wild-card teams at 11-5, the Cardinals get the No. 5 seed and the Packers get the No. 6. Why?
Because in that case, the common games tiebreaker mentioned above wouldn’t solve it. A Packers’ loss to the Lions would make them 2-3 against those common opponents, same as the Cardinals.
The next tiebreaker would then apply, which is strength of victory, and the Cardinals already have strength of victory clinched over the Packers heading into the final week.
Got all that? Good. To confuse you even more, there is actually one highly improbable way the Packers could be the No. 5 seed – if the Packers and Lions tie on Sunday. But let’s not go there.
In the simplest terms, the Packers will either earn a first-round bye or drop to the No. 6 seed as a result of their game against the Lions, and the Seahawks’ game only matters if the Packers win.
That’s all you really need to know.