Pete Dougherty analysis: 'Fail Mary' lurks within myriad playoff scenarios

Dec. 25, 2012
GPG_ES_Packers Bye Week Photo Page
Green Bay Packers' Sam Shields, Jarrett Bush, Charles Woodson, M.D. Jennings and Tramon Williams jump with Seahawks receivers on the last play of the game during the Sept. 24 game at CenturyLink Field in Seattle. Seattle receiver Golden Tate (81) was credited with the catch for the game winning touchdown. Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette Media

The NFL playoffs are about two things: which teams are peaking in January and the matchups.

So it’s hard not to notice that one of the Green Bay Packers’ most difficult matchups over the past calendar year, the New York Giants, stand a good chance of missing the playoffs.

Like last year in their run to the Super Bowl, the Giants are 8-7 heading into their regular-season finale and looking to get into the playoffs with a win. Unlike last season, though, the odds are against them qualifying for playoffs even if they win Sunday, when they host the Philadelphia Eagles.

Because of tiebreakers, the Giants’ only route to the playoffs is as a wild card and requires them to win Sunday and then have three other games turn out their way: the Packers as 311/2-point favorites defeating the Vikings; the Dallas Cowboys losing to or tying the 3-point favorite Washington Redskins; and the Chicago Bears losing as 31/2-point favorites to the Detroit Lions.

To put it another way, and excluding ties, the Giants have to win and then have two favorites win (the Packers over the Vikings, and the Redskins over the Cowboys), plus one underdog (the Lions over the Bears).

If the Giants miss the postseason, that has to enhance the Packers’ chances of getting to the Super Bowl. Twice in the last 11 months — in the playoffs at Lambeau Field last January and then five weeks ago in New Jersey — the Giants have shown they’re a particularly tough matchup for coach Mike McCarthy’s team.

The Giants’ defensive line, when healthy and motivated, can rush the passer well without blitzing, which gives them the ability to pressure the NFL’s reigning MVP, quarterback Aaron Rodgers, while still covering with seven players. And when halfback Ahmad Bradshaw is healthy, the Giants run the ball well enough to keep defenses honest and control clock if they’re in the lead.

As of now, though, the Giants are less than a 50-50 shot to get into the playoffs.

Here are possible Packers early-round playoff matchups, based on what happens on the regular season’s final Sunday. The starting point is that if the Packers win Sunday, they will be seeded No. 2 no matter what, and if they lose, they’ll be seeded No. 3 unless San Francisco and Seattle lose. Ties, which are rare in the NFL, are not accounted for here:

■ If the Packers (11-4) win Sunday at Minnesota, they’ll be seeded No. 2 in the NFC and have a first-round bye. In the divisional round Jan. 12 and 13, they’d host the highest-seeded team that survives the wild-card round.

So if the third-seeded team wins its wild-card game against the team seeded sixth, it would play the Packers at Lambeau Field in the divisional round. The No. 3 seed under these circumstances would be the winner of the NFC West Division, either San Francisco (10-4-1) or Seattle (10-5).

Chances are, it will be the 49ers, who are 161/2-point favorites over Arizona. If the 49ers win, they win the division. If San Francisco is upset by Arizona, then Seattle would be seeded No. 3 if it wins at home as 101/2-point favorites against St. Louis.

Either way, the NFC East champion will be seeded No. 4. The winner of the Dallas-Washington game Sunday night wins the NFC East.

■ If the Packers lose as 3 1/2-point favorites to Minnesota, then the Packers will be seeded No. 3 and will host the sixth-seeded team in the wild-card round. Barring two stunning results Sunday, that would mean facing the Vikings again the next week.

Based on the playoff scenarios provided by the NFL and cutting through all the whys and wherefores, a Packers loss Sunday all but guarantees that the Nos. 2 and 5 seeds will go to the 49ers and Seahawks, in either order. The only catch is if both the 49ers and Seahawks lose Sunday as double-digit favorites. If that unlikelihood happens, then the Packers would be seeded No. 2 even if they lose to the Vikings.

But assuming the Packers lose and either San Francisco or Seattle wins, then the 49ers or Seahawks will be seeded No. 2 and the other will be No. 5. (Seattle defeated the Packers in the regular season, so if both are 11-5, the Seahawks win the tiebreaker and will be seeded No. 2. Seattle also beat the Vikings in the regular season, so if both finish 10-6, the Seahawks win the tiebreaker for the No. 5 spot. The Vikings also win a tiebreaker with the Chicago Bears at 10-6 for the last wild card).

So in that scenario, if the Packers won in the wild-card round, they’d play at the No. 2 seed (San Francisco or Seattle) in the divisional round. If the 49ers win Sunday, they’ll be seeded second. If the 49ers lose and Seattle wins, the Seahawks would be seeded second. and follow him on Twitter @PeteDougherty.

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