Best case playoff scenario

PackerReport.com's Doug Ritchay focuses on the possible opponents for the Packers in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs, and offers his opinion on the most favorable matchup.

Let's face it, Sunday's regular-season finale means little. Yes, I do believe the Packers need to win this game to put the Bears' loss out of their heads, in addition to not being on a two-game losing streak. However, you don't risk the likes of Brett Favre and Co. for the whole game just to win.

Because Sunday's result means nothing more than a possibility of tying the franchise record of 13 regular-season wins, it's time to look ahead to the playoffs and which team would be the best match for the Packers.

Prior to Sunday, the seeds in the NFC are as follows: 1. Dallas, 2. Green Bay, 3. Seattle, 4. Tampa Bay, 5. New York Giants, 6. Washington (not yet clinched).

This means Seattle would host Washington and Tampa Bay would host the Giants in the wild card round. In the divisional playoff, the Cowboys would play the lowest remaining seed, with the Packers playing the highest.

Conventional wisdom would make you think Seattle will win at home and likely Tampa Bay, but upsets happen. Therefore, we'll look at every seed available for the Packers to play, outside of Washington, as the Packers can't possibly host the No. 6 seed in a divisional playoff. However, it wouldn't be bad to see the Redskins in the NFC title game, right?

First things first, he's a capsule look at each of the three teams the Packers may see in the divisional playoff:

3. Seattle: This is the worst matchup for the Packers for several reasons. First, Seattle has already played in Lambeau Field during the postseason, its quarterback – a former Packer named Matt Hasselbeck - is having a great year, and the coach – that would be Mike Holmgren - knows something about winning in the postseason.

This team also throws the ball like the Packers. Seattle is a veteran team, which easily poses the toughest obstacle in the Packers' quest to return to the NFC championship game since the 1997 season. Packers fans, root for the No. 6 seed.

4. Tampa Bay: Most would assume this warm-weather team would crumble on the frozen tundra, but there are some things about this team which makes me think it could be a problem. Quarterback Jeff Garcia has won everywhere, including Philadelphia last season. The weather won't bother him. The Bucs' running game, with third-stringer Earnest Graham (898 yards), has enjoyed a surprisingly good season, similar to the Packers, so they will be able to tough it out in poor weather. And, the defense may not be vintage Bucs, but it's good enough to make life tough at times. The Bucs would be a better matchup than Seattle, but not an easy game.

5. New York Giants: This is the team the Packers need at home. Eli Manning hasn't proven that he's ready to step up and lead a team deep into the playoffs. He doesn't display the wherewithal to win in a hostile environment. The running game can run in any weather and the defense leads the NFL in sacks, but teams usually go as far as quarterback play in the playoffs (save for Baltimore years back) and Manning is nowhere close to getting compared to his brother.

Between Manning, Garcia and Hasselbeck, no question Manning poses the least fears. The Giants in Lambeau is the best matchup in the divisional playoff.

Whoever the Packers get, though, nothing is guaranteed. What's the Packers' record at home in the playoffs since 2000? It's 2-2. I know, Mike Sherman was the coach then, but who expected Michael "Con" Vick and the Falcons to win 27-7 in 2003? The other loss came to Randy Moss and the Vikings, 31-17, in 2005.

The Lambeau mystique in the playoffs doesn't exist right now, so anybody who comes in believes they can win. It'll be up to the Packers to re-establish the dominance at Lambeau.

Not only will the Packers have to play well to move their playoff record above .500 at home this decade, it wouldn't hurt to have the best matchup. That would be the Giants, which just proves nicknames mean nothing.

Doug Ritchay is a frequent contributor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at dritchay@sbcglobal.net.


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