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Packers' playoff odds stand at 750-to-1 even if Aaron Rodgers returns

FILE PHOTO: Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers reacts after an incomplete pass in the fourth quarter during the Nov. 15 game against the Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field. The Lions beat the Packers 18-16. Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

The future looked bleak for Green Bay when Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone in Week 6, raising doubts he would play again this season. The team floundered with backup quarterback Brett Hundley under center, starting with a loss to the Minnesota Vikings the day Rodgers was injured and continued to be on the wrong side of the scoreboard in four of the next five games.

Then Green Bay orchestrated a 26-20 overtime victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, and the win could not have come at a better time. Not only did the Packers improve their record to 6-6, they put themselves in position to become a playoff team just in time for Rodgers' reported return in Week 15 against the Carolina Panthers. Or so it seemed.

Any and all playoff hopes for Green Bay require winning out the rest of the way and ending the season with a 10-6 record. Since 2002, the year the league expanded to 32 teams, 162 clubs have won 10 or more games; 152 (94 percent) of those made the playoffs. But it won't be that easy. Yes, the Packers get to play the 0-12 Cleveland Browns on the road in Week 13, but then they have to face, in order: Carolina Panthers on the road, Minnesota Vikings at home and Detroit Lions on the road. Bright side: those are also three teams that stand in their way of a playoff spot.

Using the same win probabilities that fuel our weekly power rankings, the most likely win, other than the matchup against the Browns, is the game against the against the Detroit Lions in the regular season finale (40 percent win probability). Maybe the Packers job becomes easier if Lion quarterback Matt Stafford misses time after suffering a bone bruise in his right hand during Sunday's 44-20 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, but at best that brings it to a 50/50 coin flip.

The hardest game remaining for Green Bay is against the Week 16 matchup against the Vikings (26 percent win probability), the No. 1 team in our power rankings. According to Football Outsiders, Minnesota is the fifth-best team in the NFL this year, with an offense that ranks No. 4 and a defense that ranks No. 6.

Perhaps you bump up the Packers chances in the games Rodgers could be expected to play after he returns from injury, but the boost won't be as big as you might think. The Packers' offense scored 9.4 points more than expected with Rodgers under center rather than Hundley, but that was including a disastrous game in Week 11 against the Baltimore Ravens, which featured five turnovers, three of which were interceptions thrown by Hundley. In the five other games started by Hundley this season, Green Bay's offense scored 6.5 points per game more than expected. In other words, expect the Packers to be underdogs in each game following the one against the Browns no matter who lines up under center.

But the Packers need help, too. A 10-6 record likely won't win the NFC North - the Vikings are 10-2 with the 14th easiest schedule heading into Week 13 per Football Outsiders - requiring Green Bay to grab hold of one of the two wild-card spots currently held by the 8-4 Panthers and 8-4 Seattle Seahawks along with the tie breakers against Atlanta Falcons Detroit, Carolina and Seattle.

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Here's what that looks like:

Week 14

Minnesota Vikings defeat the Carolina Panthers

Probability: 61 percent

Jacksonville Jaguars defeat the Seattle Seahawks

Probability: 64 percent

New Orleans Saints defeat the Atlanta Falcons

Probability: 61 percent

Week 15

Los Angeles Rams defeat the Seattle Seahawks

Probability: 56 percent

Week 16

New Orleans Saints defeat the Atlanta Falcons

Probability: 72 percent

Week 17

Atlanta Falcons defeat the Carolina Panthers

Probability: 52 percent

If Green Bay, Carolina, Seattle and Detroit all finish 10-6, and the Falcons finish 9-7, as the above scenario would portend, the Packers would have the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Panthers and Seahawks, a better conference record than the Lions and a better overall record than the Falcons, sending Green Bay to the playoffs for a ninth consecutive season.

Easy, right? Don't get too excited, Cheeseheads. Yes, the Packers have a chance at making the playoffs, but the above scenario requires at least 10 different dominoes falling their way, culminating in 750-to-1 odds it will actually happen. You have a better chance of catching a foul ball at a baseball game.

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