After 15 games, it all comes down to this.
Fresh off a 41-7 win Monday night over the Oakland Raiders, the Green Bay Packers enter the final week of the 2003 regular season with their playoff hopes still very much alive, but their post-season fate still far from determined.
With a record of 9-6, the Packers are tied overall with the Minnesota Vikings in the race for the NFC North title and with the NFC West's Seattle Seahawks in a race for a potential Wild Card spot.
Sunday, Dec. 28, the Packers will host the Denver Broncos in their regular-season finale at Lambeau Field, but at this point a win isn't a must to send the Packers into the post-season.
Although some of the scenarios get rather complicated, the basics of the Packers' playoff situation are as follows:
Tied with the Vikings in the NFC North, in order to win the division the Packers have to do so outright. That's because at either 10-6 or 9-7 the Vikings would hold the divisional tie-breaker courtesy of strength of victory. The Vikings clinched strength of victory over the weekend defeating Kansas City (12-3), while the Packers went on to defeat Oakland (4-11).
Thus, to win the NFC North, the Packers need a win over the Broncos at Lambeau Field and a Vikings loss at Arizona.
Tied with the Seahawks, the Packers can secure a Wild Card spot by either surpassing Seattle in the overall standings or by finishing in a two-way tie. If the Packers and Seahawks finish in a tie at 10-6 or 9-7, the Packers would advance to the playoffs courtesy of their head-to-head win October 5.
However, should the Packers and Seahawks finish in a three-way tie with the Dallas Cowboys -- currently 10-5 with a road game coming up against the New Orleans Saints -- the tie-breaker formula gets complicated.
To simplify the process:
The Packers clinch a Wild Card playoff berth if Seattle loses at San Francisco, even if the Packers lose against the Broncos. If Seattle wins, the Packers need to win themselves and need a Dallas Cowboys win over New Orleans to prevent a three-way tie.
If the Packers and Seahawks win and the Cowboys lose, the Packers' odds of making the playoffs are less than 50-50. Why?
In the event of a three-way tie with the Seahawks and Cowboys at 10-6 (which would happen with Packers and Seahawks wins and a Cowboys loss), the Packers need the Cowboys' strength of victory to be greater than the Seahawks'.
If so, the Packers earn a Wild Card berth over Seattle courtesy of their head-to-head win Oct. 5. If not, the Seahawks earn the first Wild Card spot over the Cowboys, the Cowboys earn the second over the Packers and the Packers don't make the playoffs.
Heading into the weekend, the Seahawks own a slim lead over the Cowboys in the strength of victory margin.
Some games to watch:
Buffalo at New England (Sat., Dec. 27 - 12:30 CT): A Buffalo win helps Dallas' strength of victory over Seattle, which is beneficial to the Packers in the event of a three-way tie.
Seattle at San Francisco (Sat., Dec. 27 - 4 p.m. CT): A San Francisco win clinches a Wild Card berth for the Packers regardless of their game against the Broncos. A Seattle win forces a Packers win against the Broncos.
Philadelphia at Washington (Sat., Dec. 27 - 4 p.m. CT): A Washington win helps Dallas' strength of victory and potentially gives Dallas extra incentive to win at New Orleans as the NFC East title would be up for grabs.
Dallas at New Orleans (Sun., Dec. 28 - Noon CT): A Dallas win eliminates the potential for a three-way tie with Seattle and Green Bay that could eliminate the Packers from playoff contention.
Minnesota at Arizona (Sun., Dec. 28 - 3 p.m. CT): The Packers only hope of winning the NFC North requires an Arizona win.
Denver at Green Bay (Sun, Dec. 28 - 3:15 p.m. CT): To reach the playoffs, the Packers will be in a must-win situation unless Seattle loses to San Francisco.