Green Bay Packers Week 17 Playoff Picture: What They Need to Clinch NFC Top Seed

The 2021 Green Bay Packers have been a great example of why you should never make judgments based on small sample sizes.

Remember Week 1 of this marathon NFL season? Did any team look worse than the Packers, who got crushed by the New Orleans Saints 38-3? That loss was so bad, it had people wondering if the moody quarterback and Jeopardy! host wannabe Aaron Rodgers had totally checked out on the team he felt had betrayed him the past two seasons.

Fourteen games later and the Packers have the best record in the NFL at 12-3, and the only question now about Rodgers is whether or not Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor can keep the Most Valuable Player voting close.

But while the loss to New Orleans in Week 1 certainly looks like a total aberration from the lens of late December, it did do some significant damage to the Packers that they are still coping with entering their Week 17 Sunday night game against the Minnesota Vikings.

Despite their best record, the top seed in the NFC is still very much up for grabs, with three teams still in the hunt to steal the first-round bye in the playoffs away from the Packers. Here’s how Green Bay can clinch the top spot this weekend, and beyond:

The Packers will be watching Arizona-Dallas while they wait all day for Sunday night

Aaron Rodgers and the Packers can clinch the NFC top seed in Week 17
Aaron Rodgers | Stacy Revere/Getty Images

The path to clinching the top seed in the NFC in Week 17 is very straightforward for the Packers. Currently, the Packers (12-3) lead the Dallas Cowboys (11-4), Los Angeles Rams (11-4) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-4) by one game with two to play.

But of the three teams the Packers are trying to fend off, they own the tiebreaker advantage over the Rams (head-to-head victory) and Buccaneers (better record, common opponents), so the only team the Packers have to worry about this weekend is the Cowboys, who currently own the tiebreaker over Green Bay based on better conference record.

Should the Arizona Cardinals knock off the Cowboys during the day Sunday, the Packers would take the field at Lambeau for the Sunday night game knowing that a victory over the Vikings would clinch the NFC best record.

If Dallas beats the Cardinals, then the best the Packers can do is win and set up a clinching scenario for Week 18. But what if the Packers lose?

If not this weekend, then the Packers can ring in 2022 with a clinch party

Given how badly the Cardinals are playing, having lost three games in a row, and with the Cowboys coming off their 56-14 drubbing of the Washington Football Team, it seems unlikely, on paper, that the Cowboys will not be improving their record to 12-4 this weekend.

That would put the Packers in somewhat of a must-win scenario to keep the Cowboys a game behind, knowing that if the two teams finish the season tied, the Cowboys would claim the top seed.

But the Vikings are not going to be a pushover. The reason the Packers trail the Cowboys in conference record is that on top of the Week 1 loss to the Saints, the Packers also lost the first meeting against the Vikings in Minneapolis back in Week 11, which dropped them to 8-2 in the conference while the Cowboys have posted a 9-1 mark.

And that Vikings’ victory was hardly a fluke. Since the final meeting between the two in 2016, the Vikings are 7-4-1 against the Packers, including the past two meetings. So, the Packers and Mr. Sunday Night, Davante Adams, will have their work cut out for them.

And if the Packers still need a win in Week 18 to salt the first-round bye away, there is the matter of their opponent, the Detroit Lions, who have been playing better, by their standards, the past few weeks and really played the spoiler role against the Cardinals two weeks ago. To beat the Packers in Detroit and ruin their shot at the first-round bye would be the equivalent of winning the Super Bowl for the Lions, and the Packers must be prepared for that emotion and leave-nothing-in-the-bag mentality.

The one Doomsday scenario could send the Packers all the way down to fourth in the NFC


NFL Week 17 NFC Playoff Picture: What to Watch For This Weekend

And if by some wild and cruel twist of fate the Packers were to lose both of their final two games, their Super Bowl quest could be in serious peril. If the Packers drop to 12-5, the Cowboys would just need a split to knock the Packers out of the top seed.

And if Dallas, the Rams and Buccaneers all went 2-0 to finish at 13-4, while the Packers drop two and end up 12-5, the Packers would drop all the way down to the No. 4 seed.

Jeopardy, indeed.

Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference