Back when the Packers were 4-4, I thought that it would take a miracle to save Mike McCarthy's job. He just about has it, having won six straight including wins over Dallas, San Francisco, Baltimore and at Chicago which is always meaningful for the Packers. They almost beat a desperate Pittsburgh team at Heinz Field. They would have, had Dom Capers remembered that prevent defenses generally prevent victory and had Ben Rothlisberger not thrown a perfect pass to a guy who was almost perfectly covered and who managed to make a perfect play.
But McCarthy's not out of the woods yet. The Packers really have to make the playoffs, particularily having come this close. There is a significant chance that they won't.
Prior to this weekend, it looked like a win over Seattle next week at Lambeau would clinch it. No more. With the wins by Dallas and the Giants, the Packers need to win their last two or, if they can only win one, will need a loss by either the Cowboys or the Giants.
If they were to lose one and Dallas and New York win out, they would tie for the last playoff spot with New York and lose on the basis of the third tie-breaker - record against common opponents. If, in a 10-6 Packer scenario, a Cowboy loss comnines with two Giant victories, there will be a three way tie for the two wild card spots. In that circumstance, the Packers benefit from the NFL tie breaking procedures in that a tie of three or more teams for the wild card requires that ties within divisions be broken first using divisional tie breaking procedures to eliminate all but one of the same division teams. The Giants swept Dallas and so Dallas would be eliminated. Green Bay would get the second spot and be seeded behind the Giants' based upon a poorer record among common opponents.
Note that this is true even if Dallas' one loss is at Washington and the Cowboys beat Philadelphia with Philadelphia losing this weekend at Denver and New York winning out. That would create a three way tie at the top of the NFC East but Dallas would be eliminated from the divisional race by the second tie breaker - its divisional record. We then turn to the tie breakers for a two way tie and the Eagles would win the division based on their sweep of New York.
We would then be back to the three way tie for the wild card which produces playoff berths for New York and Green Bay.
If the Packers lose both of their last two, they will need either New York or Dallas to lose their last two as well. One loss by each won't do it. The Cowboys would take on of the spots with a 10-6 record while the 9-7 Packers would lose the tie breaker to the 9-7 Giants. While Atlanta could match the Packers and Giants record in this scenario, it can win no tie breakers. They were completely eliminated when Dallas beat New Orleans.
The conventional wisdom is that the Packers should win both of the last two games. They certainly ought to beat Seattle at home and the season ending game at Arizona will be meaningless for the Cardinals. But we should be careful about placing too much emphasis on that. Teams who shut down for meaningless games at the end of the season often have a tough time turning it back on and the Cardinals coaching staff may do everything it can to prevent that.
Nor is it certain that the game will be meaningless for them. Although Arizona has wrapped up the division, it may still have a shot at a first round bye. Assume Arizona wins this week at home against the Rams (rather likely) and the Bears beat the Vikings this coming Monday night in the cold at Soldier's Field (less likely, but not implausible). The Cardinals will then have a chance to climb into a tie for the second best record in the league. The idea would be that they beat the Packers to finish 11-5 and the Vikings lose to the Giants and finish at 11-5.
They will have that shot as long as Philadelphia does not win the NFC East with a record of 11-5 or better. If they go 12-4, they will win the second spot out right. But - there appears to be no way that Dallas can win the tie breaker with an 11-5 Arizona team. Arizona will have a better record among common opponents. At 11-5, Arizona wins all potential tie breakers with an 11-5 Minnesota team.
But putting aside the outcome of the Arizona game, if the Packers have beaten Seattle and, next week, Dallas beats Washington and New York defeats Carolina, a Minnesota win over New York gives the Packers the wild card. A Philly win over Dallas will serve as well, but the games are being player at the same time. We may be spending the first Sunday of the "teens" waiting for the Packers and Cardinals to kick off and rooting for the Purple Gorgons.
Assuming the Packers make the playoffs, I wouldn't be so sure that they will be one and done. Their performance at Pittsburgh certainly suggests that they can win at Arizona, Philadelphia or Dallas. I'm not sure that Minnesota can get them again either. Favre is starting to show his age at the end of a long season and I can't believe that Capers won't find a way to bother him just a bit more. The offensive line seems to have improved enough so that Jared Allen will at least have to slow down a bit on his way to the quarterback. Jared Bush is turning out to be quite the problem, but he's a nickel (perhaps soon to be a dime)back and they seem to be able to use their defensive looks and pressures to push the play in another direction much of the time. I don't know that they will face a quarterback who is both as mobile and good as Rothlisberger. My guess is that Drew Brees would pile up big numbers but, then again, Rodgers would shred the Saints. One win is certainly possible and two is not out of the realm of possibility. Three - on the road - is extremely unlikely.
But could you imagine a Green Bay-Minnesota NFC Championship game? I don't think it will happen, but fourteen weeks into the season, it is a very real possibility. If it does happen, we are so there.