by Brian Umbaugh, @NFLRosters
It’s that time of year; 13 weeks are in the books, and the hard core fans are starting to mull over the playoff possibilities. For the Green Bay Packers, an inconsistent offense has the team and their fans refusing to R-E-L-A-X. After sneaking by an improving Detroit team with a timely Hail Mary in Week 13, the team stands at 8-4. A head-to-head win against Minnesota currently lands them in 1st place in the NFC North and #3 in the conference. With 4 games to go, the challenge is maintaining that lead, and possibly trying to snag a 1st round bye if Arizona falters. While a playoff berth is not technically clinched, the team is well on its way. As the third team in our series of playoff simulators, using the NY Times Playoff Simulation model, let’s check out the last 4 games individually and how these games affect the Packers’ playoff chances.
As the situation currently stands (after Week 13), the Packers have a 64% chance of winning the division, with 50% claiming the #3 seed and 14% claiming the #2 seed. There is also a 33% chance of finishing in the #5-6 seed, therefore hitting the road in the first round. In addition, there is a 3% chance this team will altogether miss the playoffs.
Rest of Season Odds
Remaining schedule: Dallas, at Oakland, at Arizona, Minnesota
If Green Bay figures out what is wrong with their offense today and wins the next 4 games, they have a 68% chance of overtaking Arizona for the #2 seed (they would now have a head-to-head tiebreaker.) Even if they can’t pass up the Cardinals, they would still clinch the division and a home playoff game as the #3 seed.
In a more likely scenario, the Packers can clinch at least the #3 seed by winning 3 of their last 4, unless that loss is to Minnesota. Losing only to Dallas or Oakland would create a 28% chance of still passing Arizona because of the tie-breaker, and a 72% chance of earning that #3 slot. Losing only to Arizona would clinch the #3 seed. Losing only to Minnesota…gets a little dicey, depending on what the Vikings do elsewhere. In 55% of simulations, Minnesota would take the division and leave the Packers with a road playoff game. In the other 45%, the Packers win the division and get the #2-3 seed. It will become even more apparent in the next scenarios that beating Minnesota in Week 17 is the key to the playoff bracket.
If the Packers were to win just 2 of 4, finishing at 10-6, different odds may result. Winning 2 of 3 from any combination of Dallas, Oakland, and Arizona (but losing to Minnesota) would bring about a 90% chance of a road playoff game, with a small chance of still winning the division. If the Packers win 2 games and one of them is Minnesota, there is an 84-89% chance the #3 seed would belong to Green Bay. This is another example of how beating the Vikings is essential.
What if the Packers were to win just one of their remaining games, to finish 9-7? It might sound like a broken record, but it better be Minnesota. Only beating Dallas or Arizona would result in a 85-90% chance of a road playoff game, with a 10-15% chance of missing the playoffs. Only beating Oakland, due to the extra conference loss from losing to all three remaining NFC opponents, increases the chances of missing the playoffs to 21%. Beating Minnesota, though, would be the saving grace if the Packers lost their next three games. Green Bay would still have a 39% chance of winning the division by just winning that game.
It also would be possible to make the playoffs if Green Bay were to lose all its remaining games, as there is still a 27% chance for the team to sneak into the last wild card spot. It would take a collapse from Seattle, and the extensive list of teams still in the playoff hunt would also have to participate.
The Packers are currently leading the NFC North and, if the season ended today, they would host a wild card game as the #3 seed. Green Bay currently ranks #8 in the USA Today Sagarin Ratings, and they only have one opponent with a higher rating left on the schedule (Arizona.) While that game is on the road, the anticipated matchup against Minnesota is at home. Sagarin would predict they win three of their last four, and the sounds about right. Prediction: 11-5, #3 seed in the NFC.