Packers Are Hanging Around In Week 17
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
Pete Dougherty

At 1-4 early this season, and especially at 4-8 just a month ago, the Green Bay Packers looked like anything but a playoff contender.

Yet here it is, the NFL's final week of the regular season, and the Packers can get into the playoffs with a win Sunday night against Chicago, along with some help from the rest of the NFC.

It's a remarkable development that at 7-8 they have an OK shot at the playoffs in the last week of the season, and though it says more about the state of the NFC than anything, it nevertheless has the Packers possibly playing a meaningful game in the season's final week after going 4-12 last year.

"You think you're done (at 4-8)," defensive tackle Ryan Pickett said. "So you start playing for other reasons besides playoffs. We just felt like we had to start clicking, we just wanted to get that. Coach (Mike) McCarthy pushed us hard and never gave up on us, so it's always been about the next opponent."

If the Packers get into the playoffs, they'll be only the sixth team in NFL history to qualify with a .500 record in a non-strike season. The NFL playoffs expanded from one wild card (and five teams total) in each conference to two wild cards in 1990, and the 8-8 New York Jets were the first .500 team to qualify for the playoffs in 1991. They were followed by Detroit and Dallas at 8-8 in 1999 and Minnesota and St. Louis at 8-8 in 2004.

The only two among those who won a playoff game were the Vikings and Rams in ཀ the Vikings beat the Packers at Lambeau Field in a wild-card game though neither moved beyond the divisional round.

When asked about the Packers' bad start and poor playoff prospects for most of the season, McCarthy spoke of staying off the weekly roller coaster that can consume a team's emotional state if allowed.

"That's why you have a 16-game schedule," McCarthy said. "You can't get caught up in 1-4 or 4-1. There's a reason why you play 16 games, and it's a very easy mental trap to fall into every week, the coulda, shoulda, wouldas. You really need to focus your energy on the present and prepare for the future, and learn from the past. That's been my message from Day 1.

"We play one more game Sunday night, and I'm perfectly comfortable with the fact we're going to play that football game, win that football game and everything else will take care of itself."

The Packers will know before their game starts on Sunday night whether they have a shot at the playoffs with a win. Their best chance is if the New York Giants lose Saturday night at Washington, though that doesn't assure the Packers of a playoff berth because the St. Louis, Carolina and Atlanta games also matter. If the 7-8 Giants win, the Packers' odds get long, because their tiebreaker with the Giants comes down to strength of the victory (i.e., the combined number of wins of the teams each club has defeated). The Packers would need a long list of games (eight) to have specific outcomes for them to catch the Giants in strength of victory. If any one of those eight games went the wrong way, the Packers would be out.

So the first game of the weekend, the Giants and Redskins on Saturday night on the NFL Network, is the biggest. The Redskins are only 5-10, but the Giants have lost six of their last seven games.

"We had a lot of things break our way (over the weekend)," McCarthy said. "You can make an argument that everything went our way except for one game. We just need another good weekend like that and we'll be fine."

Nevertheless, all of several players interviewed for this story claimed to have only a vague idea of what the Packers need to happen to make the playoffs.

"The only thing I heard is we have to beat Chicago," Pickett said. "Everything that happens after that is bonus, that's how we're looking at it."

Defensive end Aaron Kampman said he won't watch any football Saturday night or Sunday while waiting to play.

"What happens is you get into it emotionally and then you drain yourself," Kampman said. "Then you go into the game and you don't play your best."

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