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Packers could clinch playoff spot before kickoff Sunday

A loss by either the Giants or Redskins gets Green Bay in

GREEN BAY – The Packers could be in the playoffs by the time Sunday's game with the Raiders kicks off.

That's right. While the Packers control their fate and can clinch an NFC playoff berth with a late-afternoon win, their playoff spot could be secured depending on the outcomes of two earlier Sunday games.

According to scenarios released by the NFL, the Buccaneers' loss on Thursday night means Green Bay clinches a playoff spot if either the Giants or Redskins lose on Sunday, regardless of how the Packers fare.

So, that puts some added emphasis on the Carolina (13-0) at New York (6-7) and Buffalo (6-7) at Washington (6-7)games in Week 15. Root for the Panthers and Bills if you'd like the Packers to clinch on Sunday without having to win.

One caveat, though, which goes back to part of last week's discussion. The Giants travel to Minnesota next week, so if you're confident the Packers will win at least one of their last three games regardless, it might be best for the Giants to knock off the unbeaten Panthers and be a hot team heading into their matchup with the Vikings.

This week, Minnesota (8-5) hosts Chicago (5-8), and rooting for the Bears is definitely in the Packers' interest. Should the Packers win and Vikings lose this week, Green Bay would have a chance to clinch the NFC North title next week, before Minnesota visits Lambeau Field in Week 17.

The Packers are also still alive for the No. 2 seed and a bye, of course, so a lot is riding on the Sunday night game, Arizona (11-2) at Philadelphia (6-7). A Packers win and a Cardinals loss this week would put Green Bay in control of its own destiny for the No. 2 seed, so cheer for the Eagles.

The only other game that affects the Packers' prospects in the NFC playoff picture is Cleveland (3-10) at Seattle (8-5). This is a tough one, because it would be natural to pull for a Browns upset, but it's not that simple.

The Seahawks face the Cardinals in Week 17, and if the NFC West is decided before then – Arizona clinches with either one more win or one Seattle loss – the Seahawks might be locked into their wild-card seed (5 or 6) with nothing to play for in the regular-season finale, when the Packers might need them to upend the Cardinals.

There's no telling for sure how that's going to unfold, but it's a scenario worth monitoring over the next two weeks.

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