The Packers have been a force ever since Matt LaFleur took over as head coach in 2019, going 13-3 and advancing to the NFC Championship Game in successive years. Now, entering Week 16, they're on the brink of doing it all again, with hopes for an even grander finish. Despite all the offseason drama surrounding Aaron Rodgers and the stability of LaFleur's championship-caliber roster, the Packers are once again among the NFC's top contenders.
But where, exactly, do they sit in the current playoff picture? And how tough is their remaining schedule? What could they improve upon as they prepare to make another run? And where do we think they'll end up? Below, find everything you need to know about the Packers' postseason outlook, including a prediction for their 2021 finish:
Current playoff position
After 14 games and 15 weeks, the Packers (11-3) are sitting pretty at the top of the NFC. The Cardinals (10-4) long looked like favorites to own the No. 1 seed in the conference, but they've now dropped two straight, and more importantly, one of their four losses this year came against Green Bay. The Packers' other chief competition for the NFC's top seed -- and, thus, its only first-round postseason bye -- are the Buccaneers (10-4), who just lost a trio of offensive starters to injury; and the Cowboys (10-4), who close against Washington, the Cardinals and the Eagles.
For Green Bay, it's as simple as this: Just keep pace with the Bucs, Cardinals and Cowboys, and the No. 1 seed will be theirs. If all four teams finish 2021 with the same record, the Packers will get the first-round bye thanks to tiebreakers.
If the Packers somehow can't nab the top seed, they're at least guaranteed a top-four seed as NFC North champions, having clinched the division title in Week 15.
The Packers have three games left in 2021:
|16||vs. Browns (7-7)|
|17||vs. Vikings (7-7)|
|18||at Lions (2-11-1)|
The Browns could end up being the most desperate team on the Packers' remaining schedule. They haven't won back-to-back games since early October, and while Baker Mayfield finally looked closer to full health in their recent win over Baltimore, they're down dozens of bodies due to COVID-19. They're also not out of the AFC North race yet, and they still have Myles Garrett up front to rush the passer.
Before closing the year with the Lions, the Packers get the Vikings, who got the last laugh in an explosive Week 11 shootout between the rivals. Minnesota hung in there to beat Pittsburgh in a wild "Thursday Night Football" shootout and then edged the Bears in prime time as well. They figure to be in the wild card hunt down the stretch, so they'll be bringing their all.
Areas for improvement
- Health: This is maybe the biggest reason the Packers should be considered front-runners in the NFC. They're bound to get healthier, and they've made it to this point without some of their biggest names, including All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari, shutdown cornerback Jaire Alexander and top pass-rusher Za'Darius Smith. If/when those guys can return to the lineup, let alone full form, Green Bay should be both deadlier and deeper on both sides of the ball.
- Special teams: Mason Crosby received Rodgers' endorsement earlier this year, when he was beginning to struggle on a field goal team that's easily the worst unit of the whole squad. But the 37-year-old veteran has been iffy most of the year, missing a whopping 10 kicks (nine FGs, one extra point). Worse yet, the entire unit threatened to derail Week 14's win over the Bears, allowing a punt-return score and fumbling the ball on a pair of other kickoffs.
Remember when everyone was up in arms after Rodgers and Co. opened the year flat against the Saints? Or when A-Rod suddenly landed on COVID-19 reserve, leaving Jordan Love to drown against the Chiefs? Yes, those moments put small dents in their season, but none of them actually ruined them as title contenders, as LaFleur's squad is once again primed to make serious noise out of -- and possibly atop -- the NFC.
In our eyes, the Packers should be stone-cold favorites in each of their remaining games. Maybe the Vikings will do something wild again in Week 17, but they could be on the outside of the playoff picture by then. In any event, it's hard not to see Green Bay going 2-1 or 3-0 to close the year, putting them at either 13-4 or 14-3.
They've already locked up the NFC North, but as for the No. 1 seed? Arizona once deserved all the praise for its breakout, but the Cardinals have really stumbled lately and don't have a cakewalk schedule at the finish line. The Bucs, meanwhile, are already a game behind Green Bay and are navigating some big dents to their lineup. If you wanna know where our money's at, it's on the Packers staying No. 1 and finishing 2021 atop the entire NFC.