NFL: Stayin' alive is Packers mantra
GREEN BAY — Since 2007, just 10 of the 106 teams that failed to record double-digit victories in a season (9.4 percent) qualified for the postseason. It is no wonder Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy has been preaching 10 wins to his troops for several days now.
That dream — and Green Bay's faint playoff chances — nearly died Sunday afternoon. But the Packers rallied for a 26-20 overtime win over Tampa Bay and kept a glimmer of hope alive to reach the postseason for a ninth straight year.
It also kept the door open for a possible return of quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who practiced with the team Saturday for the first time since breaking his collarbone Oct. 15. Rodgers is eligible to play the final three games of the season.
"It keeps our hopes alive," Packers linebacker Clay Matthews said of defeating Tampa Bay. "We understood very much where we were at in the season. Unfortunately, we put ourselves in this situation, but we recognize this as a five-game season and playoff mentality. Very much like last year. We had to get this win. It took more than 60 minutes, but we got it and we're right on path."
Green Bay, Detroit and Dallas are tied for eighth place in the NFC with 6-6 records. The top four teams in the conference all have at least nine wins, while Carolina and Seattle are both 8-4 and Atlanta is 7-5.
The Packers need to get red hot and have some others hit the skids to earn one of the six playoff spots. By defeating Tampa Bay, though, the Packers remained in the hunt and still have a fighter's chance to earn a postseason berth.
"Our first objective is to get to 10 wins and we've got to win them all to get to 10 wins," Packers quarterback Brett Hundley said. "Ten is a magic number when talking about playoffs, so we're just trying to get there. If we can get there then we can start worrying about what happens from there."
The Packers must string together five consecutive victories to reach 10 wins. And the odds of that are slim.
For the sake of simple math, throw out variables such as point spreads and home-field advantage. The odds of a team winning five straight games when it has a 50-50 chance each time out is 1-in-32 (3.1 percent).
The Packers know a thing about long odds, though.
Last year, during Green Bay's "run-the-table" finish, it needed six straight victories to qualify for the playoffs. The odds of that — if each game is a 50-50 proposition — were 1-in-64 (1.6 percent).
"I think our playoff mentality came early this year," defensive end Dean Lowry said. "I think we've got to win each game, but we're used to that. I think last year, the second half of the year, that was sort of our mentality, too. I think we're excited, and we're going to keep this momentum going."
Green Bay certainly has a chance to build some momentum.
The Packers will aim for two straight wins Sunday at winless Cleveland (0-12). Amazingly, the Browns are 1-30 in their last 31 games.
If the Packers defeat the Browns, there's a chance Rodgers would return for a Week 15 game at Carolina. Rodgers will have to undergo a bone scan to see how well his clavicle has healed before he will be medically cleared.
If he does come back, though, the playing field is certainly tilted.
"Aaron looked great (Saturday) at practice and I think it definitely gives your football team a shot," McCarthy said. "I know it was good for everybody and it was really good for him, too. I know he really enjoyed being back out there at practice and the practice climate."
Even if Rodgers returns, Green Bay's final three games are daunting. In addition to facing the Panthers, Green Bay hosts Minnesota (10-2) on Dec. 23 and travels to Detroit (6-6) on Dec. 31.