With all signs pointing to Green Bay Packers starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers being held out of Sunday night's Week 15 match-up at Foxborough against the New England Patriots, most national NFL pundits are predicting the Packers will lose with backup quarterback Matt Flynn at the helm. This supposedly lets go of whatever slim playoff hopes they held onto and eliminates the pre-season Super Bowl favorite of many experts before the playoffs even begin.
I, for one, don't exactly see it that way.
After examining the schedules over the final three weeks of the teams involved in the playoff race, I believe the Packers will sneak into the playoffs as the final wild card and sixth seed, setting up a likely rematch of their Week 17 showdown at Lambeau Field against the division rival Chicago Bears. I didn't stretch anything in this projection in order to better the Packers' chances to make the playoffs. If I were going to do that, I would have had the Vikings, led by rookie Joe Webb, defeating the Bears in Webb's first NFL start Monday night. Instead, I simply went with who was most likely to win each game the remainder of the season based upon the outcomes during the first 14 weeks.
The Packers play the Patriots on Sunday night and, assuming they lose that game, they will fall to 8-6 on the year.
The Bears will win Monday night outdoors in the frigid cold against the Minnesota Vikings at TCF Bank stadium, improving their record to 10-4 and clinching the NFC North and thus a playoff berth.
I agree after Week 15 is completed, things will look bleak for the Packers' playoff hopes on the surface. The Bears will have clinched the division and the 8-6 Packers will be a game behind the other contenders for the final wild card, the Giants and the Bucs, who will be 9-5. However, things will start to turn around drastically in Week 16 if the Packers can just stay focused and not lose hope after what likely will be a demoralizing loss to the Patriots. It will be up to the coaches to keep the players focused on the task at hand. As soon as the Patriots game is over, they need to be in the players' ears telling them they essentially control their own destiny. If they take care of business and win their final two games (conveniently at home), they will more likely than not earn a playoff berth and extend their season, keeping their chance to win a championship alive.
The Packers will defeat the Giants at Lambeau, improving to 9-6 while capturing the crucial head-to-head tie-breaker against the 9-6 Giants.
The Bears will lose to the New York Jets at home, falling to 10-5 on the year.
The Rams will beat the 49ers in St Louis, improving to 7-8.
The Bucs will beat the Seahawks in Tampa, improving to 10-5 and dropping the Seahawks to 6-9.
Heading into their final game of the season, the Packers would know they would need a win over the Bears coupled with a loss by the Bucs to the Saints and a win by the Giants over the Redskins.
The Falcons will take care of the Panthers at home, finishing 14-2 and securing the number one seed in the NFC playoffs.
The Eagles will lose to the Cowboys at home, finishing 11-5 and securing the number two seed in the NFC.
The Bears will lose to the Packers on the road, falling to 10-6 but securing the division and number three seed in the NFC due to a 5-1 division record compared to the Packers 10-6 overall record and 4-2 record in the division.
The Seahawks will defeat the Rams in Seattle, improving to 7-9 and dropping the Rams to 7-9, securing the division and the number four seed on the head-to-head tie breaker.
The Saints will defeat the Bucs in New Orleans, improving to 11-5 and dropping the Bucs to 10-6, securing a wild card berth and the fifth seed in the NFC.
The Giants will defeat the Washington Redskins in D.C., improving to 10-6.
The Packers, 10-6, would win the strength of victory tie-breaker over the Bucs and the Giants (both 10-6 as well), making them the sixth seed in the NFC.
Ironically, this would present the same scenario in which the Packers found themselves last season, playing the Arizona Cardinals in Week 17 before returning the following week to face the Cardinals again in the wild card round of the playoffs.
So, the wild card match-ups would be the Packers traveling to Chicago to face the division rival Bears at Soldier Field. If the Bears win, they would travel to Philadelphia to face the Eagles the following week. If the Packers win, they would head to Atlanta for a rematch of their Week 12 match-up that came down to a Falcons field goal in the final minute. The other wild card match-up would have the Saints traveling to Seattle to take on the Seahawks. If the Seahawks win, they would travel to Philadelphia if the Packers were to win and Atlanta if the Bears were to win. If the Saints win, they would travel to Philadelphia if the Packers were to win or Atlanta if the Bears were to win. If the Packers were to beat the Falcons in the divisional round, they would face the winner of Philadelphia vs. New Orleans/Seattle, depending upon who wins in the wild card round in the NFC Championship Game. That game would be on the road whether it were against the Eagles, the Saints, or the Seahawks.