Packers' paths to earning NFC top seed (or missing the playoffs)
GREEN BAY - Matt LaFleur did not celebrate history. This was immediately after his Green Bay Packers beat Washington 20-15 Sunday, minutes after his team improved to 10-3, a win total no coach in franchise history had ever reached in his first season.
Here was a chance to take a deep breath, to reflect, to perhaps consider the big picture, how a small-town kid from Michigan led the NFL’s most storied franchise to perhaps its most successful coaching transition.
Instead, Matt LaFleur marched straight to his office. He had to work.
“Right after the game,” LaFleur said, “I went upstairs, and I put on the film because I knew that there was so much more for us, and I was pretty upset with myself after the game as well. So I went up there and started watching the tape.”
Consider, then, the futility in getting LaFleur to think about the big picture. Or at least admit publicly to it.
The Packers ascended into the NFC’s second seed with Sunday’s win. With it, they would receive a first-round bye, and be guaranteed a home playoff game in at least the divisional round. Those are some solid perks.
Solid enough, perhaps, to entice a coach to think bigger, to increase the urgency, to treat these final three games like the postseason has already begun.
LaFleur just stared ahead, smiled, and answered that question with one of his own.
“You know what I’m going to say, right?” he asked.
Yes, the mantra throughout this Packers season has been going 1-0 each week. Boring and bland as it sounds, it has worked. That doesn’t prevent everyone else from seeing the 30,000-foot view.
Here’s a look at the most direct route for the Packers to finish with each seed:
No. 1 seed
Perks: Home-field advantage throughout the postseason.
How it happens: Packers win out, San Francisco (11-2) loses two of final three, Seattle loses once. The Packers lose the head-to-head tiebreaker against the 49ers because of their loss in San Francisco last month, so they need to finish with a better record. They also would likely lose a tiebreaker with the Seahawks (10-3) because of a lower win percentage in common games. It would reach that tiebreaker if both the Packers and Seahawks won out because they did not play each other this season (first tiebreaker) and both would be 10-2 in the NFC (second tiebreaker). The Seahawks are 3-0 against common opponents with wins against San Francisco, Philadelphia and Minnesota. The Packers are 1-2 against those three teams.
No. 2 seed
Perks: First-round bye, home-field advantage for divisional-round game
How it happens: Packers win out. If the Packers do not lose another game this season, they’re assured of at least the No. 2 seed. Or as LaFleur would say: They’ve got to go 1-0 each week.
No. 3 seed
Perks: Home-field advantage in wild-card round, play the sixth seed.
How it happens: Packers lose once, New Orleans Saints (10-3) win out. The Saints are the Packers’ biggest competitor for the second seed. The Packers hold the second seed for now despite their identical records because they own the second tiebreaker, which is conference record. The Packers are 7-2 in the NFC, while the Saints are 8-3. If both teams win out, the Saints will lose out because of their dismal Week 10 home loss to an Atlanta Falcons team that was 1-7 entering the game. The Saints were coming off a bye week, too.
No. 4 seed
Perks: Home-field advantage for wild-card game.
How it happens: It doesn’t. The NFC East is so bad this season, it is guaranteed to have the fourth seed, which goes to the division champion with the worst record. The Packers couldn’t finish behind the Dallas Cowboys or Philadelphia Eagles even if they lost out. They would drop from the third seed if they lost out, however.
No. 5 seed
Perks: Playing the fourth seed in wild-card game, instead of the third.
How it happens: Packers lose two of final three, Vikings win out, Seahawks lose out. In this scenario, the Packers would have an 11-5 record, and the Seahawks would be 10-6. It’s unlikely the Packers would get the fifth seed over Seattle if they finished with identical records because of the common opponent tiebreaker. The Packers also can not get the fifth seed if the Seahawks win the NFC West. They would lose the head-to-head tiebreaker against the 49ers if both finished 11-5.
No. 6 seed
Perks: Making the playoffs.
How it happens: The Packers can win the NFC North — and clinch home-field advantage in the wild-card round — if they win two of their final three games, even if their lone loss is to the Minnesota Vikings (9-4). If they lose two of those games, and the Vikings win out, the Packers will most likely have the sixth seed. It’s too early to know what would happen if the Packers and Vikings both finished 11-5, with the Vikings winning Week 16 in Minnesota. In that case, they would cancel each other out on head-to-head tiebreaker. It could come down to division record, or the third tiebreaker, common opponents. The fourth tiebreaker would be conference record, followed by strength of victory and strength of schedule.
Missing the playoffs
Perks: A long, cold, dreary offseason.
How it happens: If the Packers lose two of their final three games and the Los Angeles Rams win their final three games, Green Bay would get beaten out for a wild-card berth and would miss the playoffs (unless a Vikings collapse hands them the division title). In that scenario, the Rams would have finished their season with five straight wins, including a Week 16 victory as likely underdogs at San Francisco. The Packers will have lost two of their final three games to Chicago, Minnesota and Detroit. If the Packers lose all three games, and the Rams lose once, the Rams would get the sixth seed. That’s because this scenario would have the Packers finishing 8-4 in the NFC, while the Rams would finish 9-3. So no matter how ideal the Packers sit entering Week 15, it would behoove them to keep winning.