GREEN BAY – It’s Week 15, and for the first time in three years, the Packers are in a position to clinch a playoff spot.
They can’t do it alone, though. More on that in a moment.
As far as the NFC North is concerned, the Packers can win it two ways. Beat the Bears and Lions this week and in the finale, or beat the Vikings next week. Either scenario works.
They also have some control in the race for a first-round playoff bye. The winners of the NFC North, West and South (Saints) are playing for two first-round byes, and if the Packers don’t lose again, they’ll get one of them.
That’s the short version of everything. Here’s what else is worth paying attention to in Week 15:
L.A. Rams (8-5) at Dallas (6-7)
Rams’ remaining opponents: at 49ers, vs. Cardinals
This is the game with the most immediate impact on the Packers’ playoff fate, because Green Bay can clinch a playoff spot with one more win, coupled with one more loss by the Rams. The NFC East has no bearing on the Packers’ prospects. So it’s pretty simple.
Minnesota (9-4) at L.A. Chargers (5-8)
Vikings’ remaining opponents: vs. Packers, vs. Bears
Even if the Packers were to win this week and the Vikings were to lose, Green Bay still wouldn’t clinch the NFC North prior to next week’s showdown in Minneapolis. But nobody would complain about some cushion in the division, especially with the Vikings playing their final two games at home.
Atlanta (4-9) at San Francisco (11-2)
49ers’ remaining opponents: vs. Rams, at Seahawks
The 49ers have the top record in the NFC and would hold a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Packers in the playoff seeding if both teams win their divisions and finish with the same record.
Seattle (10-3) at Carolina (5-8)
Seahawks’ remaining opponents: vs. Cardinals, vs. 49ers
One element that’s essentially required for the Packers to get the No. 1 seed is for the Seahawks to take the NFC West from the 49ers. So the fans shooting for the moon will want Seattle to win this game (if San Francisco also wins). Those just aiming for a first-round bye simply will want to see another contender’s path to a top-two seed made more difficult. So this one depends on your perspective.
Root for: Fans’ choice, but probably Panthers
Indianapolis (6-7) at New Orleans (10-3) on Monday night
Saints’ remaining opponents: at Tennessee, at Carolina
Strangely, the Saints are playing two AFC opponents in Weeks 15-16, and the Colts are hanging on for dear life in their wild-card chase. As mentioned previously, New Orleans has clinched the NFC South and remains squarely in the hunt for a first-round bye. If the Packers win out, they would have the tiebreaker with the Saints based on a better conference record. But again, breathing room never hurts.