The Packers’ most logical path to sneak into the NFL playoffs


Entering this weekend’s slate of games, the Packers (5-8, 10th place in the NFC) hold a 13.3 percent chance to make the playoffs, according to The Athletic’s Austin Mock.

The Packers don’t control their own destiny, so they likely must win out and receive help elsewhere. Here is one of the most likely scenarios for Green Bay, 4-8 before a comeback win over the Bears in Chicago two weeks ago, to weasel its way into the postseason (there are other specific scenarios, but The Athletic doesn’t want to be held liable for your head exploding while reading one of our stories):

The Packers beat the Rams on Monday night in Green Bay, the Dolphins on Christmas Day in South Florida, the Vikings on New Year’s Day in Green Bay and the Lions the following weekend in Green Bay to finish 9-8.

The Lions, currently 6-7, go 2-2 or worse in their final four games to finish 8-9 or worse. Detroit visits the Jets and Panthers before hosting the Bears and visiting the Packers. If the Packers and Lions both finish 9-8, the fifth tiebreaker (strength of victory) would come into play since they’d be even on the first four tiebreakers (head-to-head, winning percentage within the division, winning percentage in common games, winning percentage within the conference). Strength of victory wouldn’t be decided until after Week 18 — the Lions currently hold the advantage in strength of victory over the Packers, .487 to .446 — so let’s keep it simple and say the Lions lose one of three before losing to the Packers in the regular-season finale.

The Commanders, who beat the Packers in Week 7 and are currently 7-5-1, beat the Giants on “Sunday Night Football,” then lose at the 49ers, against the Browns and against the Cowboys to finish the season 8-8-1 — or lose to the Giants, lose at the 49ers, beat the Browns and lose to the Cowboys.

The Giants, who beat the Packers in Week 5 in London and are also currently 7-5-1, lose to the Commanders on Sunday night, lose at the Vikings, beat the Colts and lose at the Eagles to finish 8-8-1 — or beat the Commanders before losing to the Vikings, Colts and Eagles.

The Seahawks, who helped the Packers’ playoff chances improve by about 2 percent after losing to the 49ers on Thursday night to fall to 7-7, lose at the Chiefs, beat the Jets and beat the Rams to finish 9-8.

The Panthers, currently tied with the Packers at 5-8, lose at least one of their final four games to finish 8-9 or worse (Carolina hosts the Steelers and Lions before visiting the Buccaneers and Saints). For this exercise, let’s say the Buccaneers finish 9-8 with a loss to the Bengals before wins against the Cardinals, Panthers and Saints to win the division and earn the No. 4 seed, and the Falcons, currently 5-8, finish 8-9 or worse.

The Packers would get the No. 6 seed in this scenario by winning the tiebreaker against the Seahawks because of a better winning percentage in games within the NFC (Green Bay would be 7-5, and Seattle would be 6-6). That would mean a likely trip to Minneapolis or Santa Clara, Calif., for the opening round of the playoffs to face the No. 3 seed.

If the Commanders lock up the No. 6 seed by finishing 9-7-1, however, and the No. 7 seed comes down to the Packers and Seahawks both at 9-8 with the Giants (8-8-1), Lions (8-9 or worse) and Panthers (8-9 or worse) all out of contention, Green Bay would secure the No. 7 seed. That would still likely mean a trip to Minneapolis or Santa Clara to face whoever owns the No. 2 seed.

“Oh, yeah, I scoreboard-watch for sure,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said Thursday afternoon before rooting for the 49ers to beat the Seahawks later that night.

“To each their own, right?” head coach Matt LaFleur said Friday morning. “I just think that where my mindset is, is trying to prepare our team to be at our best come Monday night.”

“I’m not gonna lie,” cornerback Rasul Douglas said. “I’ve seen scenarios, but I think it starts with us, though.”

According to Mock, the Packers rank last among the aforementioned teams in playoff probability. The Commanders rank first at 56.5 percent, followed by the Lions (53.5), Seahawks (42.9), Giants (27.5) and Panthers (15.5). If Packers fans are searching for who to root for Sunday, pull for the Jets against the Lions (noon CT in New Jersey), the Steelers against the Panthers (noon CT in Charlotte) and another Giants-Commanders tie on “Sunday Night Football” (it doesn’t really matter who wins if there’s no tie).

Other than that, do a lot of praying. The Packers could use it all.

If Rodgers and company pull this one off and somehow make the dance, this might be their greatest feat yet (outside of winning the Super Bowl) since he began starting in 2008.

Beginning with Monday night’s tilt against the Rams (4-9), the main reason Green Bay can win out is its offense, especially if kick returner Keisean Nixon keeps setting it up with an advantageous field position.

Forget the defense for now, since defensive coordinator Joe Barry’s unit has provided minimal reason for hope down the stretch.

Since Week 10, the Packers rank fifth in the NFL in points per game (27.25), behind only the Cowboys, Eagles, Lions and Chiefs, and fifth in offensive EPA per play (0.11), trailing the same four teams. They have turned the ball over only four times during that stretch, tied for the seventh fewest in the league. Rodgers also owns the fifth-highest passer rating in the NFL among quarterbacks who’ve played in all of their team’s games since Week 10 (the 49ers’ Brock Purdy and Jimmy Garoppolo rank above Rodgers), with the Jaguars’ Trevor Lawrence, the Eagles’ Jalen Hurts, the Lions’ Jared Goff and the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes ahead of him among that bunch.

Green Bay still features one of the league’s best one-two punches at running back in Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon, and it now flaunts a rookie receiver in Christian Watson who has scored eight touchdowns in the past four games. Add talented rookie wideout Romeo Doubs back into the mix as he returns from an ankle injury suffered in a Week 9 loss to the Lions and an offensive line with sufficient reps under its belt as a unit, and maybe an offense that ranked 27th in points per game from Weeks 1 to 9 can carry the Packers as it has for the past decade-plus.

“We’ve got to score points,” Rodgers said. “We need to be in the 30s moving forward. Regardless of what our defense does, we score 30 points, we should win those games. Whatever it takes for us on offense. Obviously, we’ve been running the football pretty well most of the season. The emergence of Christian and his dynamic ability’s been, obviously, a very welcome sight. We’ve got to find ways to get him the football, and then everybody else, let’s just do our roles and score points. If we can get ahead of teams at home — we have three out of four at home — we can put some things together, I think.”

(Photo: Michael Reaves / Getty Images)


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