The Green Bay Packers are one of six teams in the conference with a 6-3 record, one game behind the NFC South-leading Atlanta Falcons.
Whether the Packers will win the NFC North and contend for homefield advantage very well could be determined in the next two weeks, when they play at rival Minnesota and at Atlanta. If they get through those two games unscathed, they'll have laid the groundwork to stay home for the third and fourth weekends of January. If they stumble, they'll be in a fight just to make the playoffs because of the jumble of teams at 6-3 and an ultra-challenging final three games.
For what it's worth, Part 1: For all of that early-season talk about AFC dominance, the AFC boasts a 74-70 overall record, good for a .514 winning percentage. That's hardly dominance.
For what it's worth, Part 2: Of the eight teams with winning records in the NFC, all have played five home games except Philadelphia and Seattle, which have played four at home.
Here is a breakdown of the NFC playoff challengers.
Remaining schedule: 29-34 (.460). Games against teams with winning records: Green Bay, at Tampa Bay, at Seattle, New Orleans. Noteworthy: The Falcons, who rank second in the NFL in turnovers at plus-9, have two games against the woeful Panthers (1-8). With quarterback Matt Ryan 18-1 at home, the Packers will need to play their best game in two weeks.
Remaining schedule: 29-34 (.460). Games against teams with winning records: N.Y. Giants, at Chicago, at N.Y. Giants. Noteworthy: The Packers wouldn't mind seeing the Eagles and Giants split their home-and-home series. That the Eagles finish with four of seven at home — with chances to knock off the Giants and Bears — puts them in prime position to earn homefield advantage. Their plus-12 turnover ratio leads the NFL and Michael Vick was statistically the best quarterback in the league even before dismantling the Redskins on Monday.
Remaining schedule: 34-29 (.540). Games against teams with winning records: at Philadelphia, Jacksonville, Philadelphia, at Packers. Noteworthy: The Giants-Packers game on Dec. 26 could decide, at the very least, who gets a first-round bye. The Giants, however, are mind-numbingly inconsistent and have the worst turnover ratio (minus-5) among the top eight NFC teams.
Remaining schedule: 36-27 (.571). Games against teams with winning records: at Miami, Philadelphia, New England, Jets, at Green Bay. Noteworthy: The Bears have by far the most difficult schedule, but Miami doesn't have a quarterback and they host the Eagles, Patriots and Jets. Still, the Bears only need to trail the Packers by a game heading into Week 17, since they won the Week 3 matchup.
Remaining schedule: 34-29 (.540). Games against teams with winning records: at Atlanta, at New England, N.Y. Giants, Chicago. Noteworthy: What a finishing stretch, with three dome games in the next four weeks, followed by games against the Patriots, Giants and Bears, who are a combined 19-8. That makes Sunday's game at Minnesota practically a must-win.
Remaining schedule: 32-31 (.508). Games against teams with winning records: Seattle, at Baltimore, at Atlanta, Tampa Bay. Noteworthy: The defending champions' fate will be determined in Weeks 15 and 16, with road games against the Ravens and Falcons. The Saints are minus-4 in turnovers, with Drew Brees' 12 interceptions one more than he had all of last season.
Remaining schedule: 33-30 (.524). Games against teams with winning records: at Baltimore, Atlanta, Seattle, at New Orleans. Noteworthy: If the Falcons don't stumble, the season finale at the Saints probably will decide a wild-card berth. The Bucs are plus-5 in turnovers but they haven't beaten a team with a winning record, with the combined record of their six victims 14-40.
Remaining schedule: 32-31 (.508). Games against teams with winning records: at New Orleans, Kansas City, Atlanta, at Tampa Bay. Noteworthy: Someone has to lead the comically bad NFC West, and that honor goes to Seattle, which has been outscored by 33 points. A win at Chicago is a feather in the Seahawks' cap, but they scored a combined 13 points in three of their losses.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.