Friday, December 21, 2012

NFC Playoff Picture: Can Packers Reach The No. 2 Seed?

Instead of a preview of the Green Bay Packers upcoming game against the Titans, it's more interesting to consider the NFC playoff picture. There was a shakeup last week, as the Giants and Bears both fell out of the Top 6 after losses last week, so the final playoff picture seems far from settled.

But I can't resist a mini-preview anyway. According to Football Outsiders, the Packers are currently the 5th best team in the NFL while the Titans are 4th from the bottom. If the Packers lose next Sunday at home to this Titans team, then they've already checked out for the regular season. Their intensity level would have to bottom out, such as it did a few weeks back against the Giants, for them to give the Titans any hope of winning, though Mike McCarthy has made it clear that he still wants to win their final two regular season games. However, intensity might be more of a concern for the Titans players, who may not be excited to see 15 inches of snow.

Back to the NFC playoff picture, rankings by Football Outsiders:

Team Record Overall Rank Offense % Off. Rank Defense % Def. Rank
Falcons 12-2 96.811-4.510
49ers 10-3-1 4 18.53-17.12
Packers 10-4 5 17.35-6.68
Redskins8-61112.76 2.218
Seahawks 9-5 2 17.64-15.16

There is really no explanation for the Vikings. While all the teams ranked below them by Football Outsiders are out of the playoff picture, a couple teams ranked just ahead of them still have legitimate playoff hopes (Cowboys, Steelers, Rams). Right now they're living off of their tie-breaker advantages, with a better division record than the Giants and a better conference than the Cowboys. Also, Football Outsiders has ranked their special teams unit as the 6th best in the NFL.

The Falcons got a slight bump in the rankings by thrashing the Giants, but it's hard to move the percentages after 14 games, and they still look a step behind the 49ers, Packers, and Seahawks. The Bears and Giants both deserve to be mentioned (ranked No. 6 and No. 7 overall by Football Outsiders), but each team has suffered a late season swoon (Bears have lost 5 of their last 6; Giants have lost 4 of their last 6). On the flip side, the Redskins are on a 5 game winning streak and they've moved into the NFC East lead.

For the Packers to win the No. 2 seed (and a first round bye), the 49ers would have to lose in Seattle next Sunday night because it seems impossible that they'd lose at home to the Cardinals in the regular season finale. The Packers could even move ahead of the Falcons, but Atlanta has two winnable games against good teams who in slumps (at Detroit, and home against the Buccaneers). I really like the Packers' chances of claiming the No. 2 seed but it won't be easy on the road in Minnesota on December 30th and they need some help from the Seahawks (who really do owe the Packers one).

Though winning a bye, or even home field advantage, didn't help the Packers last season. So I'm not very concerned that they earn it again this season. Maybe all they need is the Giants to miss the playoffs. Whatever happens, the most important thing is to see them in the playoffs and ready to face whatever opponent on whichever field.

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