Packers Down, Not Out

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The Green Bay Packers' 22-14 loss to the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day did nothing to improve their playoff hopes, but it didn't eliminate them from postseason contention either.

Heading into the weekend a game and a half behind the Minnesota Vikings, the Packers need some help from Minnesota's remaining opponents if they want to win the NFC North and secure an automatic playoff berth.

But GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman said Friday that the Packers' goal for the remaining four games of the regular season won't be any different than it's been all season long: win football games, one at a time.

"I've felt since the bye week that our back has been against the wall every week and I've approached it that way," Sherman said. "There was very little room for error before the (Detroit) game and there's even less room now.

"You never know how things are going to pan out -- you just don't -- so you have to win each game as you go. Certainly the margin of error has now been minimized even more so because of our ineptness (Thursday)."

As disappointing as the Packers' five-turnover loss may have been Thanksgiving Day, if the St. Louis Rams defeat the Vikings (7-4) at Raymond James Stadium this Sunday, the Packers (6-6) won't be any farther behind in the standings than they were heading into the weekend.

But with only four games left after that, the Packers are running out of opportunities to surpass the Vikings in the standings. And should the teams finish with identical overall records at the end of the season, the Detroit loss could be costly.

In such a situation, the first tie-breaker for the division crown would be head-to-head records, which is of no consequence because the Packers and Vikings split their two meetings this season.

The second tie-breaker is record against divisional opponents.

At this point the Vikings are 4-1 against NFC North teams with only a road game at Chicago remaining (Dec. 14). Thus, if the Packers can't surpass Minnesota in the standings, they need to beat Chicago themselves next weekend at Lambeau Field (Dec. 7) and have the Bears defeat the Vikings the following weekend.

In that case, the tie-breaking procedure would move to record against common opponents, but that also will be moot.

The Packers and Vikings have already played their two games against uncommon opponents and went 1-1: the Packers defeating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and losing to the Philadelphia Eagles while the Vikings defeated the Atlanta Falcons and lost to the New York Giants.

The fourth tie-breaker is record within the NFC, but for the Packers to survive that round, they need to finish in a 9-7 deadlock with the Vikings, which would require Minnesota to lose four of five games down the stretch, including three games against conference opponents.

Of course all of this ignores possible Wild Card scenarios, but it does go to show that the Packers are more likely to win the division outright than by virtue of a tie-breaker.

And if the Packers aren't yet out of chances this season, their bag of second-chances is near empty.

"Oh yeah, I think we have to win out," offensive guard Marco Rivera said of his team's playoff hopes. "But we've got Chicago next and if we don't beat them, then there's nothing. So it's one game at a time, one team at a time."

The good news for the Packers is that of their four remaining opponents, only the 6-5 Denver Broncos have a winning record to this point, while the Vikings have to play five teams with a combined 32-23 record, including St. Louis (8-3), Seattle (7-4) and Kansas City (10-1).

Of course prior performance meant nothing in the loss to the Lions and might be just as insignificant down the stretch.

"We can beat anybody, anybody can beat us," Sherman said. "I've explained that to the guys many times. And you have to show up and play with the same intensity every single week if you expect to win ... You have to have your A-game, because the (difference in) talent level in this league between two teams is not that much."

Nor, anymore, is the Packers' room for error.

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