GREEN BAY – Week 16 is here, and the most important thing to know is the Packers don't actually need any outside help in order to make the playoffs.
This is the first time that's been true during the stretch run. The Packers do indeed control their own destiny.
At 8-6 and only one game behind the 9-5 Lions in the NFC North, the Packers need to beat Minnesota this week and Detroit next week to win the division and punch their ticket to the playoffs. No other assistance is required.
That said, there is a rather convoluted scenario by which the Packers could clinch at least a wild-card berth this week, so if you want to know which teams to root for in order to make that happen, read on.
It starts, of course, with the Packers beating the Vikings and getting their ninth win. The scenario then includes a pair of wild-card competitors, Washington (7-6-1) and Tampa Bay (8-6), each losing and picking up their seventh defeats.
So, cheer for the Bears to beat the Redskins, and for the Saints to beat the Buccaneers.
Next up is Atlanta (9-5), who would clinch the NFC South with a win coupled with a Tampa Bay loss. This matters because the Packers would lose a head-to-head tiebreaker with the Falcons for a wild-card spot, but if Atlanta wins its division, that would no longer apply.
So, pull for the Falcons to knock off the Panthers.
If all of that happens, the Packers would end up no worse than tied for the final wild-card spot with the Buccaneers, if Green Bay doesn't win the division in Week 17.
The tiebreaker with Tampa Bay is where it would get complicated. The teams did not play one another, so there's no head-to-head. If both finish 9-7, they would have identical conference records at 8-4. The next tiebreaker would be common games (minimum of four), and both have gone 3-2 against Atlanta, Chicago, Seattle and Dallas.
That gets us to strength of victory for a tiebreaker (which, incidentally, is how the Packers got into the playoffs in 2010, for those keeping track). Strength of victory is the collective winning percentage of a team's defeated opponents.
In other words, the more losses accumulated by teams the Bucs have beaten, and the more victories piled up by teams the Packers have beaten, will improve Green Bay's chances in this tiebreaker.
Long story short, a trio of teams factor into that equation in Week 16: Kansas City (whom Tampa Bay defeated), plus Houston and Detroit (whom Green Bay beat).
So, while you're scoreboard watching over the weekend, it wouldn't hurt to root for the Texans over the Bengals on Saturday night, and for the Broncos over the Chiefs on Christmas night.
If all that lines up, it would actually help the Packers – strange as it may sound – for Detroit to beat Dallas on Monday night. It would assist Green Bay's strength of victory calculation.
But there's a caveat, and it's a big one. If the Packers were to fall to the Vikings on Saturday, a Lions victory would clinch the NFC North title for Detroit, and Green Bay would lose its simplest and best avenue to the postseason.
So, if the Packers don't beat the Vikings, by all means continue rooting against the Lions as is customary.