Breaking down Packers’ playoff chances

Jordy Nelson will be happy to see Aaron Rodgers back on the field, but will it be enough for the Packers to crack the postseason?

With or without Aaron Rodgers, the playoff chances of the Green Bay Packers are a longshot.

Football Outsiders gives the Packers a 15.4 percent chance to make the postseason (14.6 percent as a wild card). The New York Times’ Playoff Machine has a playoff chance at just 9 percent while FiveThirtyEight gives Green Bay only a 6 percent shot (as things currently stand; if the Packers win out, the latter places the Packers’ chances at 84 percent, but that doesn’t take into account other teams’ wins and losses; for example if the Saints, Falcons and Seahawks all win this week it would be 74 percent, but if the Saints, Falcons and Rams win it is 92 percent).

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At this point in the season, it is pretty clear it will take (at least) 10 wins to make the playoffs in the NFC. The Packers are 7-6 with three games remaining. Easy math there — Green Bay has to finish out the regular season 3-0.

Currently only one team is in the playoffs — Philadelphia, which clinched the NFC East. Minnesota (10-3) isn’t in yet, but it’s hard to imagine even the Vikings not making the postseason. One more win and they clinch the NFC North.

So for this exercise, we’re going to focus on the wild card. Presuming Minnesota takes the NFC North (as hard as that may be for you), that leaves eight teams, including Green Bay, vying for the remaining four playoff spots. Either New Orleans (9-4), Carolina (9-4) or Atlanta (8-5) will win the NFC South while Los Angeles (9-4) and Seattle (8-5) are vying for the NFC West. Dallas (7-6) and Detroit (7-6) are both in the mix as well. Yeah, Arizona (6-7) is technically still alive in the hunt, but it would take several minor miracles for that to occur.

Here’s the remaining schedules for those eight teams:

Saints (9-4) 7-3 NYJ (5-8) ATL (8-5) @TB (4-9)
Panthers (9-4) 5-4 GB (7-6) TB (4-9) @ATL (8-5)
Rams (9-4) 6-4 @SEA (8-5) @TEN (8-5) SF (3-10)
Falcons (8-5) 7-2 @TB (4-9) @NO (9-4) CAR (9-4)
Seahawks (8-5) 6-3 LAR (9-4) @DAL (7-6) ARI (6-7)
Packers (7-6) 5-4 @CAR (9-4) MIN (10-3) @DET (7-6)
Cowboys (7-6) 6-4 @OAK (6-7) SEA (8-5) @PHI (11-2)
Lions (7-6) 6-4 CHI (4-9) @CIN (5-8) GB (7-6)

So what happens if Green Bay is tied for a wild-card spot?

First, let’s say there are different rules for being tied with a divisional opponent and a non-divisional. However, it won’t be possible for both Detroit and Green Bay to finish with 10 wins (since they play each other in the season finale), so we’ll just worry about the latter and forget about the Lions for our purposes.

If it is just the Packers and one other team tied, the first tiebreaker is head-to-head. In this case, Green Bay would hold the edge over Carolina (needing to beat the Panthers this week to get to 10 wins), Seattle, which lost to the Packers in the season opener, and Dallas (Week 5). Losses to Atlanta (Week 2) and New Orleans (Week 7) would cost the Packers the tiebreaker in this instance.

The only team Green Bay did not play in the regular season (sorry, preseason wins don’t count) is the Rams. The next tiebreaker after head-to-head is conference record. By winning out, Green Bay would be 8-4 vs. NFC foes. The Rams already have four conference losses and in our scenario could only win one more game, thus the Packers would win that tiebreaker and be in the playoffs.

If there are three (or more teams) tied, things obviously get a little more complicated. Below, via the NFL, are the tiebreaking rules for such a scenario. Note that the tiebreaker only solves one team. If two teams are needed, once that team is realized, it is taken out of the pool and the process is done again with the remaining clubs.

(Note: If two clubs remain tied after third or other clubs are eliminated, tie breaker reverts to step 1 of applicable two-club format.)

  1. Apply division tie breaker to eliminate all but the highest ranked club in each division prior to proceeding to step 2. The original seeding within a division upon application of the division tie breaker remains the same for all subsequent applications of the procedure that are necessary to identify the two wild-card participants.
  2. Head-to-head sweep. (Applicable only if one club has defeated each of the others or if one club has lost to each of the others.)
  3. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the conference.
  4. Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games, minimum of four.
  5. Strength of victory.
  6. Strength of schedule.
  7. Best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed.
  8. Best combined ranking among all teams in points scored and points allowed.
  9. Best net points in conference games.
  10. Best net points in all games.
  11. Best net touchdowns in all games.
  12. Coin toss


Here are the wild-card contending teams each has faced (again, we’ll leave out the Lions and we listed the Packers above):

Saints: Panthers (won twice), Packers (won), Rams (lost), Falcons (lost, TBD)

Panthers: Saints (lost twice), Falcons (won, TBD), Packers (TBD)

Rams: Cowboys (won), Seahawks (lost, TBD), Saints (won)

Falcons: Packers (won), Panthers (lost, TBD), Cowboys (won), Seahawks (won), Saints (won, TBD)

Seahawks: Packers (lost), Rams (won, TBD), Falcons (lost), Cowboys (TBD)

Cowboys: Rams (lost), Packers (lost), Falcons (lost), Seahawks (TBD)


For step 3, you can see the conference records of each team in the chart above. Of course, those will change over the next three weeks. However, as noted previously, the Packers would have to win out and thus finish 8-4 against NFC teams.


For step 4, here are the common opponents the Packers have with each team, how those teams fared and Green Bay’s record vs. those opponents (of course, presuming victories in the final three games):

Saints: Vikings (lost), Panthers (won twice), Lions (won), Bears (won), Buccaneers (won, TBD), Panthers (won), Falcons (lost, TBD) Packers 6-3

Panthers: Saints (lost twice), Lions (won), Bears (lost), Buccaneers (won, TBD), Falcons (won, TBD), Vikings (won) Packers 5-4

Rams: Cowboys (won), Seahawks (lost, TBD), Vikings (lost), Saints (won) Packers 3-2

Falcons: Bears (won), Lions (won), Panthers (lost, TBD), Cowboys (won), Seahawks (won), Buccaneers (won, TBD), Vikings (lost), Saints (won, TBD) Packers 8-3

Seahawks: Falcons (lost), Cowboys (TBD) Does not meet minimum

Cowboys: Falcons (lost), Seahawks (TBD) Does not meet minimum


The rest — strength of victory, strength of schedule — wouldn’t be able truly be determined until the end of the season, but thus far Green Bay has defeated Seattle (8-5), Cincinnati (5-8), Chicago (4-9) twice, Dallas (7-6), Tampa Bay (4-9) and Cleveland (0-13), and to reach 10 victories would add Carolina (9-5 with Packers loss and two to play), Minnesota (10-3) and Detroit (7-7). Counting the Bears twice and leaving the fact that the latter three teams would have six other games to play, that would give Green Bay’s strength of victory (winning percentage against teams it beat) at .439 (58-74).


Let the games begin.