GREEN BAY – The Green Bay Packers will earn their eighth straight playoff bid – and the NFC North title – if they win their final two games. That’s their simplest postseason outlook.
The wild-card outlook is much more complicated.
While a division title is by far the Packers' best chance of making the playoffs, it isn’t necessarily their only path. There are scenarios that could allow the Packers (8-6) to earn a wild card should the Detroit Lions (9-5) hang onto their NFC North lead.
The Packers will enter Week 16 as the NFC's sixth seed and No. 2 wild-card team after Washington (7-6-1) lost to the Carolina Panthers on Monday night. The Packers hold a narrow strength-of-schedule tiebreaker over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who also are 8-6.
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If the Packers and Bucs finish with the same record, they will have identical records against NFC opponents. They also have identical 3-2 records against common opponents. The next tiebreaker is strength of victory, which won't be determined until the season is over.
The Panthers' victory over Washington means the Packers and Bucs have identical strength of victory (.441 win percentage). The Packers should hold an edge here moving forward. Their final two opponents have a 16-12 record, while the Bucs' final two opponents are a combined 14-16.
An identical strength of victory means strength of schedule, the fifth tiebreaker, is applicable. (It may not be applicable after Week 17 if their strength of victory changes.) The Packers have the slightest of edges over the Bucs, a .505 strength of schedule to .500 for Tampa Bay.
Of the three teams that could threaten the Packers' wild-card chances (Atlanta, Washington and Tampa Bay), the Bucs are the most favorable competition. The Packers lost to Atlanta and Washington, so the Packers would lose the tiebreaker if they finish with identical records.
At the highest level, NFL teams are crunching these numbers to figure out playoff scenarios. Between coach Mike McCarthy and his players, the message stays simple.
“Ten wins,” McCarthy said. “That’s really all we’ve focused on. We know we’re at eight. We have to get to nine. Then obviously next week we’ll probably be answering that question the same way. It’s not to be cliché, but just staying true to what’s right in front of us.”
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NFC PLAYOFF PICTURE
East: Cowboys (12-2)
West: Seahawks (9-4-1)
South: Falcons (9-5)
North: Lions (9-5)