Why the Packers will be in the playoffs

Look for Green Bay to get help it needs from other NFC teams

It's come down to the last week of the season for the 2006 Green Bay Packers. It could very possibly come down to the last game of the last week. That would be the Packer-Bear game at Soldier Field Sunday night. Who would have figured this just a few short weeks ago? The Packers were sitting at 4-8. They had been shut out twice and blown out on at least three occasions. This team was clearly not going to the playoffs. But then again, the Packers play in the NFC. And as this week unfolds, several teams are still in the running for that last playoff spot. The Giants, Rams, Panthers, Falcons and Packers all can be that team if things fall the right way.

The Packers are the youngest team in the NFL. That youth has probably cost the Packers on a couple key occasions this year. The Packers are probably kicking themselves as they look back to the losses to the Saints, Rams, Bills and Seahawks. All of those losses were painful because they were games that the Packers had an excellent opportunity to win. The Rams game was especially distressing. The Packers were deep in Ram territory late in the game, only down by three. The Packers were going to at least attempt a chip shot field goal at the very least to force overtime. But the Packers had pass blocking breakdowns that led to a Brett Favre fumble. Favre was hit just as TE David Martin had broken wide open for what would have been the game winning TD.

The Ram loss really strikes home now as they are a key competitor for the last playoff spot. But the Packers are where they are. They can't go back in time and change the outcome of those games. The Packers are 7-8, not 9-6 or 8-7. But through all of that, I still believe that this team WILL make the playoffs this year. The question is...how?

First, the New York Giants are in a free fall. They play the Redskins in Washington tonight. The G-men have lost 6 of their last seven. There are locker room issues. Tom Coughlin looks like he is walking the plank. Eli Manning has looked horrible of late. Tiki Barber says he's retiring. Jeremy Shockey is out for tonight's game because of injury. Michael Strahan has an injured foot. Add to that, the Redskins are playing very competitive football as of late. Young quarterback Jason Campbell, has gotten better and better. Ladell Betts has played very well in Clinton Portis' absence. Bottom line, the first and most important step for the Packers to make the playoffs will happen tonight (besides beating the Bears of course). The Giants will lose.

Sunday's games will be interesting. If the Packers and the Rams both win, and none of the other contenders do, then the Rams go into the playoffs based on their win in Green Bay. And I do believe the Rams will win. They play a Viking team that can really be lit up in the passing game. The Rams have QB Marc Bulger and WRs Tory Holt and Issac Bruce. Plus the Vikings will be starting rookie QB Tavaris Jackson again. The Vikings might surprise at home, but I wouldn't count on it. That's why the Packers need either the Falcons or Panthers to win, beacuse the Packers will advance to the playoffs in a three team tie.

I also believe that the Falcons have almost no chance of beating the Eagles in Philly. The Eagles still have a divisional championship to play for and the Falcons are imploding. Jeff Garcia looks like the Garcia of five years ago, as he has really played well for the Eagles. The Falcons are going in another direction. Head coach Jim Mora will probably be fired. Michael Vick is blaming everyone but himself for the Falcons troubles. Bottom line, the Eagles will win.

Then there is the Panther-Saints game in New Orleans. The Panthers still have a reasonable chance to make the playoffs if things fall right, while the Saints have absolutely nothing to play for. The Saints are the second seed in the NFC and that can't change. he Panthers are getting QB Jake Delhomme back this week. I expect head coach Sean Payton to rest most of his starters liberally throughout the game. I'm sure he remembers how Drew Brees, then with the Chargers, hurt his shoulder late last year. And the Saints are facing Julius Peepers and company. I'm also sure he doesn't want Reggie Bush or Deuce McAllister injured either. The Panthers need this one and the Saints don't. Bottom line, Panthers win.

That scenario then will take us to Soldier Field on Sunday night. The Packers vs. the Bears. Brett Favre. John Madden. It can't get any better than that. Like the Saints, the Bears have nothing to play for except pride. But pride won't get you to the Super Bowl if one of your key players is injured. The Packers will have everything to play for. For one, the PLAYOFFS! Secondly, although I seriously doubt it, it could be Favre's last game. Also, the Packers would finish at 8-8, which is a great accomplishment in terms of where this team was a few weeks ago. The Packers could also finish 5-1 in the NFC North.

In this heated Packers-Bears rivalry, no game is easy. But the Packers will have the incentive to play this game with reckless abandon, while the Bears will need to be cautious about who plays and how much. Plus, the Bears have some key injuries on defense since the last time these two teams met. Both safety Mike Brown and defensive tackle Tommie Harris are out for the season. The Packers will need to play well in all three phases of the game.

I also expect a big game out of Favre. Yes, he hasn't had success against Chicago of late, but I think that will change Sunday night, given the circumstances. Favre is 11-2 against the Bears at Soldier Field. Overall he is 21-8 against the Monsters of the Midway.

Time will tell, but I feel the Packers will beat the Bears and make the playoffs. Are the Packers ready for the playoffs? In the NFC, who knows? As stated earlier, the Packers are the youngest team in the NFL. Playoff experience would be a huge asset to this team. It would be a great springboard for next season, no matter what happens in the playoffs. By the way, I would expect the Packers to have to play against the Eagles in Philly for the wild card game. Talk about a chance to exorcise some demons with a win there. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. But it sure will be interesting to watch everything unfold this weekend. And that is something that wasn't even remotely possible just a few weeks ago. Welcome to the NFC!

Bob Fox is a freqent contributor to PackerReport.com. E-mail him at greenbaybob@hotmail.com.

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