Packers path to top seed in NFC playoffs and first round bye

At 9-3, the Green Bay Packers have survived the most difficult part of their schedule and have positioned themselves nicely for a chance at the only first-round bye in the NFC playoffs.

Green Bay currently trails only the Arizona Cardinals (10-2)–a team they beat on the road earlier this season–but are in the mix with a couple of other top teams in the NFC. Let’s take a look at the playoff standings as they sit entering Week 14:

  1. Arizona Cardinals (10-2)
  2. Green Bay Packers (9-3)
  3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-3)
  4. Dallas Cowboys (8-4)
  5. Los Angeles Rams (8-4)
  6. Washington Football Team (6-6)
  7. San Francisco 49ers (6-6)

If the standings hold as is, Green Bay will host San Francisco in the opening round with the Buccaneers taking on Washington and the Cowboys and Rams matching up. However, the Packers will likely want to get on the other side of the bracket as the Buccaneers (the defending Super Bowl Champions), and would also love a first-round bye to recuperate from the tough season.

Here’s how the Green Bay Packers can move to the top of the playoff pack in the NFC and earn the vaunted first-round bye.

The Packers basically have the division locked up as is with their magic number down to two. That means they could win it as early as this week with a victory over the Chicago Bears on Sunday and a Minnesota Vikings loss on Thursday. Even if the Vikings win, Green Bay simply has to win two more games this year or hope for two more Vikings’ losses to clinch the division.

That writing has been on the wall for some time and the Packers have much bigger fish to fry.

According to The New York Times’ playoff predictor, the Packers have not only a greater than 99 percent chance to make the playoffs, but they also have a greater than 99 percent chance to win the division (as we just discussed).

As it relates to a first-round bye, their current chances sit at just 28 percent with the Cardinals as the heavy favorites at 46 percent. The Bucs are the other notable team at 21 percent with the Cowboys (5 percent) the only other team above 1.

First things first: Green Bay must take care of their own business if they want a chance at the first-round bye. Here’s what their schedule looks like to conclude the season:

  • Vs Chicago
  • @ Baltimore
  • Vs Cleveland
  • Vs Minnesota
  • @ Detroit

That’s a very manageable schedule that will give the Packers a great chance at winning out and finishing with a 14-3 record. Their biggest challenges will be at Baltimore and at home against the Vikings who always seem to give them trouble.

As for the Cardinals, their schedule is a bit more difficult with a couple of games that could possibly trip them up:

  • Vs Rams
  • @ Detroit
  • Vs Colts
  • @ Cowboys
  • Vs Seahawks

Going back to The Times’ playoff predictor, if the Packers win all five games it will give them a 91 percent chance at earning a first-round bye regardless of what Arizona does. If they lose even one game, however, their chances fall all the way to 50 percent (again, regardless of what the Cardinals do.

The Packers don’t control their own destiny–yet–but there’s a very good chance Arizona could slip up somewhere. The Rams, Colts and Cowboys are all formidable foes who will have a decent chance at beating the Cardinals. Green Bay must hope for that while also taking care of its own business.