GREEN BAY - The Green Bay Packers could get a playoff berth for Christmas, but they need a lot to go right this weekend.
In simplest terms, a seven-step process would allow the Packers to clinch a playoff berth this weekend, according to FiveThirtyEight Sports' prediction machine. The seven-step process is as follows:
1. Packers beat Minnesota.
2. Tampa Bay loses at New Orleans.
3. Washington loses at Chicago.
4. Atlanta wins at Carolina.
5. Denver wins vs. Kansas City.
6. Detroit wins at Dallas
7. Houston wins vs. Cincinnati
Let’s address each step individually:
» Packers beat Vikings: This is obvious. The message coach Mike McCarthy has sent to his players this month is get to 10 wins, then think about the playoffs. If the Packers get to 10 wins, they’ll win the NFC North and host a wild-card game. Beating the Vikings is an essential step for any postseason possibility.
» Tampa Bay loses at New Orleans: The Packers are the NFC’s sixth seed at the moment because of a slight tiebreaker edge over the Buccaneers. Strength of schedule, the fifth wild-card tiebreaker, is applicable because the Packers and Bucs will have identical conference records and the same record against common opponents. They also have identical strength of victories, with the Packers a better bet to end up with that edge in two weeks. So if the Packers and Bucs finish with the same record, the Packers will win the tiebreaker. If the Bucs lose to the Saints this week, they can finish no better than 9-7. The Packers can finish no worse than 9-7 if they beat the Vikings.
» Washington loses to Chicago: Ready to root for the Bears? Washington is not an ideal team for the Packers to compete against for a playoff berth, thanks to their blowout win over Green Bay last month. But Washington’s tie against the Cincinnati Bengals makes it extremely unlikely they will finish with the same record as the Packers. Washington held the NFC’s sixth seed until its loss Monday night against Carolina dropped its record to 7-6-1. If Washington loses to the Bears, it can finish no better than 8-7-1. That would be a half game behind the Packers’ worst-case scenario of 9-7 if they beat the Vikings.
» Atlanta beats Carolina: It’s not enough for the Bucs and Washington to lose this weekend. The Packers need the Falcons to win. Like Washington, the Falcons would be an undesirable head-to-head wild-card competitor with the Packers, because of their late-October win over Green Bay in Atlanta. If the Falcons lose to Carolina, the Bucs still would be alive in the NFC South race entering Week 17. Should the Bucs win the NFC South and the Falcons finish with an identical record as the Packers, Atlanta would edge out Green Bay for the final wild-card spot.
» Denver beats Kansas City: This is nothing more than window dressing. The Bucs' best win of the season came Nov. 20 at Kansas City, which is 10-4. A Chiefs loss on Christmas Day to the Broncos would hurt the Bucs’ strength of victory, which could be a tiebreaker with the Packers.
» Detroit win at Dallas: That’s right, a Lions win could actually help the Packers this week. Because the Packers have already beaten the Lions, it would boost their strength of victory, which could be a deciding tiebreaker should they and the Bucs finish with the same record.
» Houston wins against Cincinnati: Same as the Lions beating the Cowboys. The Packers beat the Texans earlier this season, so a Texans win would boost their strength of victory. The Packers need both a Lions and Texans win to fully clinch a playoff spot, according to the prediction machine.
If all the above scenarios fell into place this week, the Packers would finish no worse than 9-7. Washington would finish no better than 8-7-1. The Falcons would clinch the NFC South and thus pose no wild-card threat to the Packers. And while the Bucs could finish 9-7, they wouldn't win the strength of victory tiebreaker over the Packers.
So maybe the Packers will get an early Christmas present. The Packers still would prefer to beat Detroit on New Year's Day, win the NFC North and host a home playoff game, but there's a chance they could make the playoffs anyway.