GREEN BAY, Wis. — There’s one thing that not even the potential return of Aaron Rodgers can fix for the Green Bay Packers: winning the final four games this season does not guarantee a spot in the playoffs.
With a record of 5-6-1, the Packers do not control their own postseason destination. Currently trailing the Detroit Lions (7-5) and Chicago Bears (6-6) in the NFC North, Green Bay’s only chance of participating in playoff football for the fifth consecutive year is to leap both of those teams in the standings.
“That’s what we’ve done to ourselves,” wide receiver Jordy Nelson said. “We’ve got to take care of our job and that’s win the games, and if Detroit doesn’t lose two, then so be it. We should’ve won some more games prior.”
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The Packers haven’t won a game since Oct. 27, but if they’re able to reel off four in a row throughout December, it at least gives them a shot. In order for that hypothetical winning streak to mean anything, though, the Lions — as Nelson stated — would have to lose at least two of their last four games.
Earning a wild-card slot is so improbable for Green Bay that it’s hardly worth analyzing. The two teams currently in position for the NFC wild card are the Carolina Panthers (9-3) and San Francisco 49ers (8-4, with a head-to-head win over the Packers). Green Bay’s only realistic way in is to claim its third consecutive division title.
All things considered, the Packers’ playoff chances are calculated at 6.7 percent. For comparison’s sake, Detroit’s chances of making it are 86.2 percent.
Despite the long odds, players inside Green Bay’s locker room don’t plan on booking their January vacations until the season is actually over.
Defensive lineman Mike Daniels was even kind enough to offer an analogy to explain why he’s determined to fight until the end.
“You’re a reporter; how would you know if you had to go report and there may or may not be a story,” Daniels said. “You still have to go into it with ‘This is my job, I have pride in my job, I’m going to make sure I get a story out of this. I’m interviewing a rock, it doesn’t matter, that rock is going to tell me something interesting.’
“That’s what we have to do. It’s just pride as a human being. You can’t go out on the field and just lay down. You see Minnesota fought their tails off; their possibility of making the playoffs is pretty slim, but they were still out there fighting, and that’s how to play this game. If we had the mentality to just lay down when things got hard or if seemingly there wasn’t light at the end of the tunnel, then we wouldn’t be in this locker room. We wouldn’t be in the NFL, period.”
The Packers aren’t looking for moral victories to make themselves feel better this offseason. But even if the Lions don’t cooperate and win at least three of their four remaining games, Green Bay wants to finish 9-6-1 regardless of what postseason result comes of it.
“It makes our life better,” Nelson said. “You always want to win, no matter what it is, you want to win. Going out on a four-game win streak would be nice going into the offseason. We want to make the playoffs, so that would still sting, but we’ll feel better about that than what we do now.”
The Packers’ final four opponents won’t present the most difficult challenges that an NFL schedule could offer, but right now Green Bay is far from a lock of beating any team. It begins with the Atlanta Falcons (3-9) this Sunday at Lambeau Field.
“You watch them and it’s hard to believe that their record is what it is,” Daniels said. “They have weapons, they have veterans players, they have a pretty good quarterback. We have to play our best game.”
If the Packers can end their current non-winning streak (it’s not technically a losing streak with their tie against the Vikings) on Sunday, Green Bay would then need to knock off the Dallas Cowboys (7-5) on the road, beat the Pittsburgh Steelers (5-7) at home and then close it out on the road with a victory in Chicago against the Bears.
The Packers will also be scoreboard-watching along the way. Detroit’s remaining schedule has the Philadelphia Eagles (7-5), Baltimore Ravens (6-6), New York Giants (5-7) and Minnesota (3-8-1).
“I think we’re all interested in what’s going on and we care about our chances and knowing that we’re still in it,” Rodgers said. “We have to win out and we need Detroit to lose two out of four. The biggest part of that is us winning out, controlling what we can control. It starts this weekend. We have to get a ‘W’ and root for Philly.”