The overlying theme of the Green Bay Packers overtime win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was that it kept the season alive. Backup quarterback Brett Hundley got his second career victory when circumstances were at their most dire. As Packer nation hopes and pleads for Aaron Rodgers to return and save the day, there are many other factors standing in the way of the Packers playoff hopes. It all begins this week against the Cleveland Browns. If the Packers lose that game with Hundley under center there will be little reason to bring Rodgers back. The Packers also need some help to make an improbable run to the postseason. The outcomes of the games below will have detrimental impacts on the NFC standings and the Packers path to the playoffs.

Current NFC Playoff Rankings

In the Driver’s Seat:

  1. Minnesota Vikings (10-2)
  2. Philadelphia Eagles (10-2)

It will be very difficult to usurp these two teams from the top of their respective divisions. Although the Eagles have a difficult schedule down the stretch, they have been the top team in the NFC the majority of the year. The Vikings, on the other hand, have a fairly favorable remaining schedule of the many NFC hopefuls. Obviously this isn’t good news for the Packers. Although the teams do have another meeting in week 16, it appears the Vikings are going to win the NFC North. That leaves the Packers vying for one of the two wild card spots up for grabs.

Safe Bets:

3. Las Angeles Rams (9-3)
4. New Orleans Saints (9-3)

The Rams and Saints are currently third and fourth in the conference standings, respectively. Both feature high-octane offenses and playmaking defenses. Whether these teams hold onto their division leads has yet to be determined but it would take quite the collapse for either squad to miss the playoffs. The Packers lost to the Saints in week seven, so they should hope the Saints distance themselves from the wild card discussion.

Wild Card Competitors:

5. Seattle Seahawks (8-4)
6. Carolina Panthers (8-4)
7. Atlanta Falcons (7-5)
8. Detroit Lions (6-6)
9. Green Bay Packers (6-6)
10. Dallas Cowboys (6-6)

All of the teams listed above are .500 or better with just four weeks remaining. The Packers have wins over the Seahawks and Cowboys but have lost to the Falcons and Lions. They have a pivotal matchup with the Panthers in week 15 and end the season with a showdown against the Lions in Detroit. With so many combinations of outcomes and tiebreakers among the teams in this section, there will be serious drama in the fight for the final two playoff spots.

Games to Watch

Panthers vs. Vikings: Week 14

This game pits two of the top teams in the NFC against each other. Both teams rely on dominant defense and the run game. If the Vikings win, they take one step closer to securing home field advantage in the playoffs. As terrible as it sounds, the Packers could benefit from a Vikings victory in this game. Assuming the Packers win in Cleveland, they could potentially kick the Panthers out of the wild card slot in week 15.

Seahawks vs. Rams: Week 15

The NFC West may be decided by this game in week 15. After winning in Las Angeles earlier this year, Russell Wilson will look to continue his MVP-caliber season at home among the 12s. The Rams need to even the series for the Packers to have a greater shot at a wild card spot. The Packers week one win over Seattle could pay huge dividends in these final weeks. They’ll need some help from the Rams and perhaps Jacksonville Jaguars this week to even their record with the Seahawks.

Saints vs. Falcons: Week 16

The Falcons are a looming question mark in the NFC. They have looked dominant at times and totally out of sync at others. Luckily for the Packers, the Falcons have the most difficult schedule down the stretch. They play the red-hot Saints two out of the next three weeks and end the season with a home game against the Panthers. Packer fans should be rooting for the Saints in both games to set up a potential sudden death matchup between the Panthers and Falcons in week 17.

Lions vs. Packers: Week 17

Let’s assume everything falls into place: Rodgers returns with a golden collarbone, the Packers beat the Browns, Panthers, and Vikings, and the Seahawks and Falcons lose two of their next four. This would leave a final showdown with the Lions in week 17. The Lions, forgotten by most of the NFL community, have perhaps the easiest set of games down the stretch.

With games against the lowly Bucs, Bears, and Bengals over the next three weeks, the Lions could very well be 9-6 and in prime position for a wild card berth. The Packers and Lions met in Detroit with the same record in week 17 of last year too. It was determined prior to kickoff that the victor would win the NFC North but the loser would still qualify for a wild card spot. In this scenario, the game could be for the final spot in the playoffs with the loser staying home.

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