We now know that the Packers have the top seed yet again in the NFC playoffs, meaning they’ll get a bye in the wild-card round and host a divisional round game Jan. 22 or 23. Green Bay sealed up the top spot with a resounding win over Minnesota on Sunday night.
Who are they likely to face in that meeting? It’s obviously quite fluid; Green Bay will be paired with the worst remaining seed in the field, so it’s not even a simple bracket. But we can at least guess, even as the Nos. 2-4 seeds in the NFC remain up in the air. The Los Angeles Rams (12-4) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (12-4) are currently slated at 2 and 3, one game ahead of the fourth-seeded Cowboys (11-5) and fifth-seeded Cardinals (11-5).
The Cowboys are guaranteed a top-four seed as a division winner and could slide up to No. 2 if they win and get help next week. The Rams, meanwhile, could fall to No. 5 with a loss and Cardinals win next week, flipping the NFC West title to Arizona.
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A look at the likeliest foes in the divisional round at Lambeau Field, starting with some playoff underdogs:
The Eagles have clinched a playoff spot, and if they win their first playoff game, there’s a really good chance they’ll be flying to Lambeau.
Philly will probably be the No. 7 seed, though it’ll climb to No. 6 with a win over Dallas and a 49ers loss (or a 49ers loss and a Saints win instead). As a seventh seed, a first-round win over the No. 2 seed (which could be the Rams, Bucs, Cowboys or Cardinals) would guarantee a trip to Lambeau in the divisional round. If the Eagles rise to the sixth seed, a win in the playoffs would also do it, assuming the No. 7-seeded team also lost in the first round.
In other words, it really takes only two outcomes (a 49ers win over the Rams in Week 18 and a first-round upset in the playoffs) for this to happen. Neither will be favored to happen on paper, though it’s worth noting the Eagles have won six of seven, albeit not against a rugged schedule.
New Orleans Saints
The Saints are on the outside of the playoffs looking in at the moment, but if they win over Atlanta and San Francisco loses to the Rams, New Orleans will gain the No. 7 seed.
The Saints must then upset the No. 2 seed, which would be the Rams in any scenario (because Los Angeles beat San Francisco in this scenario and held on to the No. 2 seed). For the Packers to see the Saints, it requires three outcomes: Saints over Atlanta, Rams over 49ers and Saints over Rams in the playoffs.
Taysom Hill at Lambeau Field, anyone? A rematch of a surprisingly lopsided Week 1 Packers loss?
San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers are the No. 6 seed at the moment but must win next week over the Rams (or see the Saints lose at Atlanta) to keep that playoff spot.
If both lose, San Francisco will be the No. 7 seed if Philly beats Dallas and the No. 6 if Philly also loses. Either way, a first-round win is a pretty good bet to guarantee a trip to Lambeau, unless the 49ers are No. 6 and No. 7 also prevails.
On paper, the Saints should beat the Falcons and Rams should beat the 49ers, so San Francisco still has work to do to even get into the postseason.
The likeliest in a world with zero upsets: Dallas Cowboys
If things go according to script, the “likeliest” divisional foe is the Cowboys, led of course by former Packers coach Mike McCarthy. There’s a strong chance Dallas winds up with the No. 4 seed and would thus be the squad theoretically lined up to face Green Bay in the second round. But that assumes no playoff upsets.
You have to go back to the 2016 season to find a time when there wasn’t at least one upset in the wild-card round of the NFC playoffs. For those hoping to see a McCarthy-Packers standoff, Dallas would need to stay at No. 4 and you’d need the possible-but-iffy scenario of all three favorites (NFC West champion, Tampa Bay, Dallas) winning in the wild-card round.
What must happen for the Cowboys to stay at No. 4:
The Cowboys would need to lose in Week 18 at Philadelphia (Philly has clinched a playoff spot and could elevate to No. 6 with a win over Dallas) OR
The Cowboys win but either one of the top two NFC West teams also win. If the Rams win over playoff-hungry San Francisco, then they stay ahead of the Cowboys on record (then even if Tampa loses, the Bucs would get the No. 3 seed on head-to-head over Dallas). If the Rams lose but the Cardinals win over Seattle, Arizona gets the NFC West and holds a head-to-head tiebreaker over Dallas (Dallas falls to No. 4 in a potential three-way tie because it’s lost to both Tampa and Arizona).
Then, Dallas must defeat a first-round foe (it’ll be either the Rams or a Cardinals team that just beat the Cowboys at their place) while the Bucs and NFC West champion also win in the first round.
Those rooting for it still need four outcomes to go correctly: Three playoff games and one of three remaining possibilities in Week 18. All four things would be projected to happen, on paper.
Slightly less likely: Arizona Cardinals
Arizona’s tiebreaker advantages mean it can’t be the No. 4 seed, but it could stay at No. 5, which would put it within reach of Green Bay.
For Arizona to get stuck at No. 5, it must lose to Seattle or the Rams must beat San Francisco. To face the Packers, Arizona must upset the No. 4 seed, which could be Dallas, the Rams or Tampa Bay. Plus, the other two favorites must win in the wild card round. That’s three playoff outcomes and one of two regular-season outcomes.
Much less likely: Los Angeles Rams
The Rams are currently situated at No. 2, which would put them out of reach for a divisional round. But if the Rams fall to San Francisco in the finale while Arizona takes care of Seattle, the Rams would drop to No. 5 and suddenly be a real possibility for a Lambeau playoff rematch. If Arizona and Los Angeles both lose, the Rams could also wind up at No. 4.
L.A. must lose in Week 18 for any chance to see the Packers in the divisional round. The Rams could be the No. 4 seed if Arizona loses but Tampa and Dallas win or a No. 5 if Arizona wins. The Rams must then win their wild card-round game, which would come at Dallas or at home against Arizona. The other two favorites must also win their wild-card round game.
Thus, any Packers-Rams divisional scenario requires three playoff outcomes (Rams win and no upsets in other two games) and a minimum of two regular-season outcomes (Rams loss, Cardinals win as the most direct) to work out.
Highly unlikely: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
It’s easy to see this team as the boogeyman after last year’s NFC championship game, although injuries and some tepid recent performances might lend some optimism in a Packers-Bucs head-to-head. The Bucs are currently the No. 3 seed, which would mean they can’t face Green Bay in the divisional round. Not only that, but a lot has to go right for them to drop to No. 4.
Tampa Bay would need to lose to Carolina while Dallas wins and both the Rams and Cardinals lose, setting up a three-way tiebreaker between the Cowboys, Rams and Bucs that puts Tampa fourth. Then, Tampa would need to win its 4-5 matchup with Arizona in the playoffs while the Cowboys and Rams both prevail. That’s seven outcomes that have to go a certain way for the Packers to face the Bucs in the divisional round.
JR Radcliffe can be reached at (262) 361-9141 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JRRadcliffe.
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Green Bay Packers possible opponents in NFC playoffs divisional round