When San Francisco jumped out to an improbable 14-0 lead over the Seahawks Saturday afternoon, visions of playoffs danced in Packer fans' heads. A Seattle loss meant a playoff spot for the Pack no matter what happens today when Green Bay (9-6) hosts the Denver Broncos at 3:15 p.m.
San Francisco had nothing to gain. Seattle had everything to lose. The Niners' big lead seemed too good to be true.
Seattle (10-6) rallied for a 14-14 tie at the half and went on to beat the Niners 24-17. A Seattle loss would have guaranteed Green Bay a playoff spot no matter what happened today vs. Denver (10-5). Instead, due to the Seahawks' win, the Packers must beat the Broncos and look for help.
The best assistance would come from Arizona. If the Cardinals beat the Vikings (9-6) and reen Bay beats Denver, the Packers repeat as the NFC North Champions. The scoreboard will be scrutinized this afternoon because both the Vikings and Packers have late-afternoon games, but the around-the-league reports unfolding on the Lambeau Field video board may not be pleasant viewing; the Cardinals (3-12) are even less dependable than San Francisco.
The next choice is Dallas (10-5). If Green Bay can't get a Minnesota loss, they need a Cowboys' win over New Orleans. The7-8 Saints are out of playoff contention but will put up a good fight at home to salvage a .500 record. Dallas, meanwhile, already has a wildcard bid locked up and lost out on its hopes of an NFC East title when Philly beat the hapless Redskins Saturday night.
All Dallas has on the line is the elusive, but all-important "Strength of Victory" tiebreaker, which will help determine if they are the first or second wildcard. Shortly after their Lambeau Field kickoff, the Packers will know if the Cowboys came through in the early game.
Historically, the Packers haven't had much luck when they look for charity this time of year. One of the most exciting Packer seasons of the "Drought Era" ended with a 10-6 record – their best in 17 years – but fell short of their post-season dream. The Packers had to beat the Cowboys in Dallas on Christmas Eve, which they did. Then they had to hope for help from the Cincinnati Bengals in a Monday night game vs. Minnesota. The Vikings beat the Bengals handily, making it a blue Christmas for Lindy Infante, Don Majkowski and the rest of the memorable '89 Packers. They tied the Vikings atop the Central at 10-6 but lost on the tiebreaker. The following year the field was expanded. Last season, a Miami Dolphins' choke had a domino effect that energized the New York Jets, who in turn buried the Packers. Green Bay went from top-seed hopeful to first-round bust vs. Atlanta quicker than you can say "Michael Vick."
This season, the roles have changed but the major characters have stayed the same. San Francisco, Dallas and Minnesota have all caused Green Bay a fair share of pain in recent years.
Immediately it is Denver that stands to make or break the Packers' season. After that, it falls to two of the Packers' arch enemies to either open the door or slam it shut on the 2003 season.