GREEN BAY – It’s that time again, when our weekly “Path to the Playoffs” feature morphs into “Road to the Super Bowl.”
There’s nothing too complicated to sort out here in round one, but for those wondering whom the Packers would play next should they beat the Giants, it’s the other NFC Wild Card game that will determine it.
On Saturday night, the No. 6 seed Lions will play the No. 3 Seahawks in Seattle. It’s a tough assignment for Detroit, playing on a short week for the second game in a row, but in the playoffs, anything goes.
Because the No. 1 seed, in this case Dallas, gets to host the lowest-remaining seed after the wild-card round is completed, the Cowboys would face the Lions should Detroit win. That game would be played on Sunday, Jan. 15, in the late afternoon, as the NFL has already plugged Dallas into that time slot, regardless of opponent.
In that case, the Packers-Giants winner would travel to No. 2 seed Atlanta for a late Saturday afternoon matchup on Jan. 14.
But if the Seahawks win, the script is flipped. Seattle would travel to Atlanta for a Saturday contest, because the winner of No. 4 Packers vs. No. 5 Giants would be the lowest-remaining seed and would head to Dallas for a Sunday showdown.
So, the Packers-Giants winner will know about 15 hours before this Sunday’s kickoff where they’re off to next.
The AFC has the opposite timeline, as the No. 4 Texans and No. 5 Raiders play on Saturday and won’t know where the winner is going until after the No. 3 Steelers face the No. 6 Dolphins on Sunday.
Getting back to the NFC, recent history shows it’ll be a tough road for anyone making it out of the wild-card round.
Three of the last four years, the top two seeds in the NFC – that is, the teams with the first-round byes – have met in the conference title game. The only top-two seed to lose following the bye in the last four years was No. 2 Carolina in 2013, knocked off by San Francisco.
That said, in the five seasons prior to that, the top two seeds in the NFC met for the conference title only once (New Orleans and Minnesota in 2009), so it’s not as though there’s been a long run of dominance by the teams with playoff byes.
Is there any particular scenario Packers fans should root for? Just one, really.
If you want Green Bay to be able to host the NFC Championship Game should the Packers get there, cheer for the Lions.
Detroit is the lone NFC title game opponent the Packers could host. If the Lions win at Seattle and at Dallas, and if the Packers win against the Giants and at Atlanta, a berth in Super Bowl LI would be on the line at Lambeau Field.
But that’s the only way it can happen.