The NFC playoff race was shuffled after the Cardinals and Buccaneers suffered upset losses. However, really, nothing has changed for the Green Bay Packers.
Not happy with the nail-biting fashion in which the Green Bay Packers beat the Baltimore Ravens? Not happy that they needed a last-second pass breakup to preserve a victory over a team that played without the 2019 MVP and all of its top defensive backs?
It could be worse.
With 10-3 records, the Packers started the day in a three-way tie atop the NFC standings with the Arizona Cardinals and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In the first wave of games, the Cardinals – who had been 7-0 on the road – were crushed 30-12 at one-win Detroit. In the afternoon games, the Packers held off the Ravens 31-30, a win not secured until Darnell Savage and Eric Stokes broke up a two-point pass. In the night game, the New Orleans Saints – losers of five straight – stunned the Buccaneers in Tampa 9-0.
The outcomes changed the face of the NFC, with Dallas vaulting from No. 4 to No. 2. Instead of Green Bay leading the NFC on tiebreakers, it leads the conference outright.
Here are the current standings and updated final schedules.
1. Green Bay (11-3)
vs. Cleveland (7-6), vs. Minnesota (6-7), at Detroit (2-11-1). Home-away: 2-1. Combined record: 15-24-1.
2. Dallas (10-4)
vs. Washington (6-7), vs. Arizona (10-4), at Philadelphia (6-7). Home-away: 2-1. Combined record: 22-18.
3. Tampa Bay (10-4)
at Carolina (5-9), at N.Y. Jets (3-11), vs. Carolina (5-9). Home-away: 1-2. Combined record: 13-29.
4. Arizona (10-4)
vs. Indianapolis (8-6), at Dallas (10-4), vs. Seattle (5-8). Home-away: 2-1. Combined record: 23-18.
5. L.A. Rams (9-4; host Seattle on Tuesday night)
vs. Seattle (5-8), at Minnesota (6-7), at Baltimore (8-6), vs. San Francisco (8-6). Home-away: 2-2. Combined record: 27-23.
Path to No. 1 Seed
While the Packers have a one-game lead in the NFC, the reality is nothing has changed. They have to keep winning. At the start of this week’s games, the Packers had no margin for error because their lead was based on tiebreakers. At the end of this week’s games, the Packers still have no margin for error. That’s because the Cowboys would win a tiebreaker based on conference record. Dallas is 8-1 in NFC play while Green Bay is 8-2.
Both teams having tough finishing schedules. If the Cowboys win those final three games and the Packers drop one, it will be Mike McCarthy’s current employer perhaps hosting his former employer in a conference championship game.
“We have to take it game by game but that’s the goal,” safety Adrian Amos said. “Your goal is to win the games. It’s always going to be important for us. We’re not going to say that it’s not important, because you always want to have that homefield advantage to not have to travel and to play in front of our home crowd.”
While Green Bay has four road victories over teams with winning records this season and lost at home to Tampa Bay in last year’s title game, there’s obvious value in the Packers earning the No. 1 seed this year. Only the top team gets a first-round bye – which means a free pass into the divisional round. And the bye means a week of resting and healing.
The final push begins on Christmas against Cleveland, with the Browns having a one-day rest disadvantage. Then it’s a home game against Minnesota, with the Packers having a one-day rest advantage. The finale is at Detroit, which is finishing strong rather than playing dead under first-year coach Dan Campbell.
“Having an extra week would be really great for my toe,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “That’d be fantastic to get another week, and then the fact we can win two home playoff games and make it to the Super Bowl, that’s what we had last year. We beat a good Rams team and then couldn’t finish it off against Tampa. It would be nice to get another opportunity to do it again at home. Everything is right in front of us. We’ve got to win the next three and then get a chance to relax.”