GREEN BAY – Path to the playoffs is back.
For those not familiar, this is our weekly look in the final month of the season at all the games that could potentially affect the Packers’ playoff prospects. It will spell out scenarios, when appropriate, and give advice on whom to root for in the other games that might help Green Bay.
In Week 13, one game easily rises above the others as far as its impact on the NFC playoff picture – Seattle (6-5) at Minnesota (8-3). The proper rooting interest isn’t so easily determined, however.
We’ll call this a fan’s choice. If you want the Packers to win the NFC North and guarantee themselves at least one home game in the playoffs, then root for the Seahawks. A Vikings loss would drop them into a tie with the Packers (8-4) for first place in the division with four games left.
However, if you’re content with a wild-card spot and would prefer to see Seattle’s playoff prospects take a hit, then go ahead and root for the Vikings. If the Seahawks fall to 6-6, their margin for error gets a bit slim.
Also, consider this: The Packers need only be one game behind the Vikings heading into Week 17 in order to steal the division title at Lambeau, because finishing tied with Minnesota with a head-to-head sweep would win the North (you’re going to hear that spelled out a lot in the coming weeks). So, thanks to the Packers’ Hail Mary victory in Detroit, they’re still only a game back of Minnesota even if the Vikings win this week.
OK, on to other games.
New Orleans (4-7) is at Carolina (11-0), and since the No. 1 seed in the NFC is still mathematically possible for the Packers, might as well root for the Saints to pull the upset.
As for the NFC’s other top team, Arizona (9-2) travels to St. Louis (4-7). A Cardinals loss would put them only one game ahead of the Packers in the race for a possible first-round bye, and Green Bay visits Arizona in three weeks, so pull for the Rams at home here.
Other games factoring into the NFC wild-card hunt include San Francisco (3-8) at Chicago (5-6) and Atlanta (6-5) at Tampa Bay (5-6). If the Bears get a seventh loss and the Falcons get a sixth, the Packers would have more cushion against both of those pursuers, so probably best to root for the 49ers and Buccaneers.
Here’s a twist, though: The Falcons play the top-dog Panthers twice in the next three weeks, so if you’re confident in Carolina holding serve in those games, rooting for Atlanta to give the Bucs a seventh loss is worth thinking about.
Last but not least is the NFC East, where the co-leaders are below .500 but still not out of the wild-card chase. So in the battle of New York/New Jersey, Jets (6-5) at Giants (5-6), root for the Jets, and on Monday night with Dallas (3-8) at Washington (5-6), pull for the Cowboys.