NFL Playoffs 2016: 5 reasons the Green Bay Packers will make it
The Green Bay Packers are 7-6 and two games back of the 9-4 Detroit Lions in the NFC North. Here are five reasons Green Bay makes the 2016 NFC Playoffs.
The 2016 NFL season has certainly been an exciting one. There are only three weeks left in the 2016 NFL season with still so many playoffs spots in both conference up for grabs. One of those races to keep an eye on is the NFC North between the Detroit Lions (9-4) and the Green Bay Packers (7-6).
While the Minnesota Vikings are 7-6, they aren’t likely to win the division because they were swept in the season series with Detroit. Green Bay defeated Detroit in this previous meeting and will play each other in Week 17 at Ford Field. Detroit may have a two-game lead over the Packers, but here are five reasons it will be Green Bay that wins the 2016 NFC North crown.
5. Green Bay finally has its health
The Packers have won three games in a row after ending its four-game skid. Green Bay has forced its way back into the NFC Playoffs conversation at 7-6 through Week 15. So what’s changed for the Packers? If it’s been anything, it’s that the Packers finally have their health.
For Green Bay to succeed, the Packers need to be as close to full strength as possible. Green Bay doesn’t take part in NFL free agency, preferring to build its team through the draft. This leaves Green Bay with many developmental projects coming through draft picks.
In short, it leaves Green Bay particularly vulnerable when its veteran players are not suiting up on Sunday. The Packers don’t have the horses to keep pace in the next-man-up world of the NFL.
That being said, Green Bay is getting healthy when everybody else is getting hurt down the home stretch. The Packers lost a few battles in the middle of the season in the hopes of winning the 2016 war when it matters in December.
Green Bay’s defense is getting better. The Packers have at least a marginal running game. A little bit of improvement across the board helps quarterback Aaron Rodgers and head coach Mike McCarthy exponentially. They’re immensely talented at what they do. They’ve got this, thanks to the Packers getting healthy at the right time.
Dec 11, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) prepares to throw the ball during the second quarter against the Chicago Bears at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
4. Matthew Stafford’s finger
For whatever reason, the Lions have had their issues with the Chicago Bears this season. They split their season series by outlasting them on Sunday at Ford Field 20-17, but it might be a moderately costly victory for Detroit.
The Lions are 9-4 due in large part to an MVP caliber season from starting quarterback Matthew Stafford, who rises to the occasion almost weekly to win tight ball games for the Lions in the fourth quarter. In 12 of the Lions’ 13 games this season, Detroit has either won or lost by seven points or less. Stafford is the difference maker on the Detroit offense.
While Detroit is 9-4, leading the NFC North, and would be the No. 2 seed in the NFC Playoffs if the season ended today, Stafford seemed to have suffered an injury to a finger on his throwing hand. He potentially has ligament damage, and while he has the strongest right arm in the NFL, this isn’t good for the Lions playing in cold-weather games.
Stafford isn’t going to have any issue throwing the football through the harsh northern winds with his howitzer of a right arm, but could an ailing finger hurt his accuracy? Since the Oakland Raiders’ Derek Carr wrecked his pinky finger a few weeks ago, his accuracy and overall play has diminished.
Detroit doesn’t have much margin for error, as the Lions’ success the season falls greatly on Stafford. He and offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter may look to devise a conservative game plan to mask his injured finger. However, will that limit his overall effectiveness? Does he start to throw interceptions or fail to complete crucial third downs because of his finger? Regardless, having a botched finger on one’s throwing hand doesn’t help at all.
3. Packers’ three remaining games are all winnable and in the division
The way that the Packers’ 2016 NFL season shook it out would have them play all three of their NFC North rivals in succession to close out the year. Green Bay has a road date with the Bears in Week 15, the Vikings at home in Week 16, and on the road against the Lions in Week 17.
Not only are these all divisional games to help the Packers in potential tie-breaking scenarios, but these are all very winnable games for the Packers. Chicago is trotting out Matt Barkley at quarterback the rest of the season. The Bears are a miserable 3-10 and Green Bay should destroy them in Soldier Field.
Green Bay lost earlier in the season to Minnesota at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. That loss has to still sting for many members on the Packers. Everybody was jumping on the Vikings bandwagon in September. Look for Green Bay to rebound and put the Vikings in their place with a big Week 16 victory to essentially knock Minnesota out of the NFC Playoffs.
Finally, Week 17’s road game against the Lions could be for all the marbles in the NFC North. If Green Bay is only one-game worse that Detroit in the NFC North standings entering Week 17, a win on the road over the rival Lions would clinch the division for the Packers. The Packers could win the NFC North by completing the season sweep of the Lions.
Realistically, Green Bay needs to win its next three games to finish at 10-6 on the year and 4-2 in the NFC North to win the division. A 10-6 mark would at least get the Packers a Wild Card spot, depending on how the Atlanta Falcons, the New York Giants, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers finish their seasons. At 9-7, Green Bay could get in as the No. 6 seed, but would have to fend off the Washington Redskins, too.
2. Lions’ three remaining games are absolutely brutal
Not only are the Packers’ final three games all winnable ( at Chicago, Minnesota, at Detroit), the Lions could totally lose all three of their remaining games and miss the NFC Playoffs entirely. Detroit is on the road against the New York Giants (9-4) in Week 15, on the road against the Dallas Cowboys (11-2) in Week 16, and home for Green Bay (7-6) in Week 17.
One would have to believe that the winner of the Lions at Giants game this weekend will end up in the NFC Playoffs. It will be really hard for an at-worst 10-6 NFC team to not make the NFL Playoffs. New York is playing very well of late, thanks to its defense and Odell Beckham Jr. on the outside.
Week 16 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington against the Dallas Cowboys seems like another horrible road game for the Lions. Dallas could be looking to close out home field advantage in the NFC Playoffs. Should New York beat Detroit and Dallas falls to Tampa Bay in Week 15, Week 16 between the Lions and Cowboys will be high-stakes with a Dallas team desperate for a win at home. That doesn’t sound promising for the Lions.
Week 17 against Green Bay is a losable game because the Packers are a division rival. The Packers will have to push for playoff contention in the next three weeks. This seems like a team that is going to pick up serious momentum with every win late in the season. If they clobbered Seattle at home in Week 14, why can’t the Packers throttle Detroit in Motown?
Oct 30, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy and quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) talk during a stoppage in play against the Atlanta Falcons in the fourth quarter at the Georgia Dome. The Falcons defeated the Packers 33-32. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
1. All things equal, take Packers’ culture over Lions’
Okay. Let’s just say for the sake of simplicity that Week 17’s game between the Packers and the Lions at Ford Field will be for the NFC North crown. It’s a win or go home type of game. Whether they have the same record entering Week 17 or the Lions are still a game better, it’s easier to trust the Packers’ culture over the Lions’ in this clinching situation.
Green Bay has won this division for years even when the Packers aren’t a great team. Detroit has made the NFC Playoffs twice in the Stafford era, both times as a Wild Card team, and lost in the Wild Card Round both times.
Culturally, the Packers are known as winners, while the Lions are labelled unfortunately as losers. Green Bay has won four Super Bowls and Detroit is one of four franchises to have never been to one. Keep in mind that two of those four teams have only been in existence for less than 20 years: the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Houston Texans.
All things equal, Green Bay has the structure in place to come through in a do-or-die game. Detroit is rarely even in these games with major playoff implications. That stage won’t be to big for either Rodgers or Stafford. However, Green Bay expects to make the NFC Playoffs annually, while Detroit just hopes that the Lions can maybe think about making them. There is your difference.
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