Packers earn home playoff game

The Green Bay Packers won't have to wait long to get a chance at re-establishing their Lambeau Field dominance.

With Friday's thrilling victory at Minnesota, the Packers won their third straight NFC North championship. By virtue of the division title, the Packers have earned a home playoff game and are locked into a third seed in the conference playoffs.

"At 1-4, I don't think many people thought we'd win the division," Brett Favre said after Friday's victory. "This team has battled all year, and today was no different."

NFC East champion Philadelphia (13-1) has wrapped up the No. 1 seed throughout the conference playoffs and Atlanta (10-3) will be the second seed. Those teams will get first-round byes and second-round home games.

Even with a loss next week in the regular-season finale at Chicago, the Packers would finish ahead of the NFC West champion to net the third seed. With a loss, Green Bay would finish 9-7. If Seattle wins out, with home games against Arizona and Atlanta, the Seahawks also would finish 9-7.

The first tiebreaker is conference record. The Packers can finish no worse than 8-4 while the Seahawks can do better than 8-4.

The next tiebreaker is record against common opponents. The Packers are 5-0 against St. Louis, Carolina, Dallas and Minnesota while the Seahawks are only 2-3 against those teams.

The other NFC West contender, St. Louis, already has eight losses.

As the third seed, the Packers will host the sixth seed, or the worst of the two wild-card teams. Speculation is futile since the only team eliminated from the NFC playoff picture is San Francisco. If the season were to end today, however, the Packers would host red-hot Carolina on the weekend of Jan. 8-9.

There are three 6-8 teams: Carolina, St. Louis and New Orleans. The Panthers beat both of those teams, giving them the edge in any tiebreaker.

The fifth seed, or top wild-card team, would be Minnesota (8-7).

As the third seed, the Packers would avoid Philadelphia until the NFC championship game. A potential second-round game would be played at Atlanta, setting up an intriguing matchup against Michael Vick and former defensive coordinator Ed Dontaell.

Just how muddled is the NFC playoff picture? Check out this scenario from the Washington Times.

If Washington, which started the season 4-9, wins at Dallas on Sunday and the following scenario unfolds this weekend — Tampa Bay defeats visiting Carolina, Cincinnati defeats the visiting Giants, Atlanta defeats host New Orleans and Philadelphia defeats host St. Louis — the Redskins would control their destiny heading into the final weekend.

If all of those things happen — and it's not farfetched — Washington would qualify as a 7-9 team simply by beating visiting Minnesota in its finale.

As it stands heading into the rest of the Week 16 games, along with the aforementioned 6-8 teams, the Giants, Dallas, Washington, Tampa Bay, Detroit, Chicago and Arizona are all 5-9 and mathematically in the chase.

What does a home playoff game mean for the Packers? Historically, quite a lot, since the Packers have lost only one Lambeau Field playoff game in franchise history. This season, however, the Packers are just 4-4 at Lambeau, and their cold-field dominance disappeared a week ago in the loss to Jacksonville.

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