By: Chris Terlop
This Packers’ team is banged up on both sides of the ball. They are not putting up the crazy numbers on offense as they did last year. In spite of that they find themselves atop the NFC North and the third seed in the NFC playoff picture right now. They trail the 49ers by half a game and the Falcons by two games with three left on the schedule. The Giants lurk a game back with the tiebreaker in their favor while the Bears continue their slide backwards and are now worried not about the division, but a wild card spot.
Before we get ahead of ourselves let us first take a look at the teams ahead of the Pack. The 49ers beat the Packers 30-22 in week one and are half of a game ahead of Green Bay heading into week 15. No, this is not baseball; San Francisco slipped up and tied with the Rams to give them a 9-3-1 record.
Going forward the 49ers do not have an easy road, starting with a trip to New England this week. The Patriots made their case for being back on top this past Monday night embarrassing the conference leading Texans 42-14. On top of that, the Pats have won 20 straight at home in the month of December. Translation, this is not by any stretch of the imagination is this an easy win for San Francisco.
Next game up, at the 8-4 Seattle Seahawks on Sunday night. Seattle has, arguably, the best home field advantage in all of the National Football League. The Seahawks are 6-0 at home this season, including wins over the previously mentioned Patriots, a controversial, yet a win none-the-less over the Packers, as well as two borderline playoff teams in the Cowboys and Jets. A loss here would come to no surprise to anyone.
Final game of the season for San Francisco would be a home game against Arizona, which is all but a guaranteed win. Take into account two very tough road games in addition to a team that is between second year quarterback and the one leading the league in completion percentage and you have a very realistic and very possible 1-2 record over the last three games having them a final record of 10-5-1.
Next up: the number one team in the NFC, the Atlanta Falcons. Myself, like many others, cannot figure out who this Falcons team really is. At 11-2, Atlanta has six wins by six points or less, including victories over Carolina by two, Oakland by three and Arizona by four. Not impressive to say the least.
Coming off of a 30-20 loss to 4-9 Carolina, the Falcons now have an 8-5 Giants team that is starting to turn it on at the end of the season. New York is coming off a 52 to 27 win over the Saints and has Washington and Dallas nipping on their heels. Not exactly a team that is in the mode of coasting into the playoffs. Atlanta’s closest wins have been at home (Denver, Carolina, Oakland, Dallas, and Arizona), not really giving the Falcons a great home field advantage.
Detroit follows the Giants, a team that has all of the weapons to be a playoff squad, but watched it all fall apart this season. This game is in Detroit, where the Lions have a 2-4 record. However, that 2-4 record includes a seven point loss to the Vikings, a four point win over the Seahawks, a four point loss to the Packers, a three point overtime loss to the Texans and a two point last second loss to the Texans. What do all of those teams have in common? They are all either in the playoffs or a game out of a playoff spot. To take the Lions lightly in this game would be a mistake. They have an underachieving defensive line, the best wide receiver in football, a very good quarterback and an improving run game. All of that together makes it very possible for a Lions upset in Detroit.
The Final game for Atlanta is home against Tampa Bay. Tampa Bay has spiraled down since being on the brink of the playoffs and are on a three game losing streak. The first time they played the Falcons, they lost by one at home. In that game the Falcons’ D held Doug Martin to 50 yards; I do not see that happening again. The Bucs average 118 yards a game on the ground and the Falcons have been giving up 127 yards a game.
The last Atlanta performance against Martin was the exception, not the rule. Add a quarterback in Josh Freeman that does not turn the ball over and Vincent Jackson, a top receiver in this league with over 1,100 yards on the season, a weapon that can change the outcome of the game by himself, and the Falcons have some issues. A 1-2 record to close the season, which is possible, would set up the Falcons at 12-4.
Now to the team of our focus, the Green Bay Packers; who sit in the third slot with a 9-4 record. Remaining schedule for the Green and Gold: at Chicago, home vs Tennessee, at Minnesota. In addition to the emergence of the running game the past two weeks, 152 yards and 140 yards respectively, the Packers are expecting some help on defense with Pro Bowlers Charles Woodson and Clay Matthews Jr. possibly returning this week.
First challenge up, da Bears. A win in Chicago would mean a division championship for the Packers, the first step toward the “P” word, as it is put in the locker room right now. The Bears are struggling, having lost four of their last five games. The lost field captain Brian Urlacher for possibly the season and have found no answers on the offensive line. If Matthews and Woodson can play the pressure should be constant on a team that is allowing quarterback Jay Cutler to get beat up on an every game basis. Chicago fans are dreading this game and their teams overall playoff chances right now.
Second up is a Tennessee team that is looking forward to next season. Jake Locker, their first round draft pick from a year ago is their quarterback; with that they are willing to accept the growing pains. The Titans have played tough as of late, a four point loss to the Colts last week attests to that. Overall, they do not have the talent today to compete with the Packers and get the win at Lambeau, even if the Packers overlook them as a trap game.
Last but not least are the Minnesota Vikings, and in my opinion the hardest game left for the Packers. Adrian Peterson could come in to this game in reach of Barry Sanders’ single season rushing record, and if he is playing you can guarantee that the Vikings will feed him the ball until he breaks it. This could be bad news for the Packers after A.P. gashed them for 210 yards on 21 carries in week 13. In the end the Packers will pull out the win if they are in the position to clinch the one seed with a win. They will hang on for dear life and hope for a couple Ponder interceptions mixed with a healthy Green Bay roster and get the W.
If the Packers can win out and finish 12-4, the Falcons finish 12-4 and the 49ers somewhere at or below 11-4-1 the Packers would clinch the first overall seed as they hold the tiebreaker over the Falcons in that scenario based on divisional win percentage. So, for those dismissing this possibility, there are quite a few things that need to fall in place, but none of them are that far from being a possibility.
You Can Follow Chris Terlop on Twitter: @Terlop19