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Packers' magic number to clinch NFC North is three

Green Bay sits half game out of conference’s top spot at Week 13 bye


GREEN BAY – It's back! That's right, with December here and the Packers on their bye week, Path to the Playoffs has returned.

For those not familiar, this is a weekly stretch-run segment on that lays out where the Packers stand in the playoff picture. Most importantly, it also indicates the upcoming game results that would be most beneficial for Green Bay, providing a road map for fans' rooting interests in other games.

So let's get to it.

In Week 13, the Packers are 9-3 and 3½ games up in the NFC North over the 5-6 Vikings. Green Bay also is a half game back of 9-2 Arizona for the top record in the entire conference, which is a coveted spot as it carries with it the only postseason bye as well as home-field advantage throughout the postseason.

Starting with the division, to borrow a baseball pastime, the Packers' magic number to clinch the NFC North is three. That means, from here on out, any combination of Green Bay wins and losses by the second-place team, currently Minnesota, totaling three will wrap up the division crown.

With that in mind, as Minnesota travels to Detroit (0-10-1) on Sunday, root for the Lions to get their first victory of the season and knock that magic number down to two.

Regarding the rest of the NFC playoff picture, here's the current seeding order of the top five teams in the conference based on overall records:

1. Arizona (9-2), 2. Green Bay (9-3), 3. Tampa Bay (8-3), 4. Dallas (8-4), 5. LA Rams (7-4).


The Packers have head-to-head tiebreakers over both the Cardinals and Rams, so in order to get a higher seed than either of those potential NFC West champs, Green Bay would just have to match their record (unless a three-way tie with another division champ is created, but no need to explore those possibilities right now).

At this point, it will help the Packers' playoff prospects for all of the above teams to take another loss, making the rooting interests pretty easy.

With Arizona at Chicago (4-7), Tampa Bay at Atlanta (5-6), and Jacksonville (2-9) at LA, it's worth cheering for the Bears, Falcons and Jaguars to pull upsets.

That said, if there's one possible exception to that simple layout, it would be this: The Rams are currently two games back of the Cardinals in the NFC West, and those two teams play one another next week on Monday Night Football, so it might not be the worst thing for LA to win this week to make its Week 14 showdown with Arizona that much more meaningful.

In that context, it could make sense to cheer for the Rams in order to keep as much pressure on the Cardinals as possible in the NFC West. But LA is also just 1½ games behind Green Bay in the overall picture, with plenty of season left. So keep that in mind, too.

Enjoy the games, everybody.