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In Race for No. 1 Seed, Packers Might Need McCarthy Magic

The Green Bay Packers trail the Arizona Cardinals by one game in the chase for the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs.

GREEN BAY, Wis. – In Green Bay Packers coach Matt LaFleur’s quest for the No. 1 seed in the NFC, he might have to root for his predecessor.

With five weeks remaining in the NFL regular season, the Arizona Cardinals are in first place in the NFC with a 10-2 record. The Packers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are one game back at 9-3.

For Green Bay to earn the coveted top speed, a prize that comes with the only first-round bye and homefield advantage in the NFC playoffs, it must gain a game somewhere along the line. One place where that could come: the Cardinals’ Week 17 at Mike McCarthy’s Dallas Cowboys.

If the Packers win out – no small feat with a Week 15 game at the Baltimore Ravens coming up next week – they’d finish 14-3.

If the Cardinals lose once – they’ll face three teams with winning records – they’d finish 14-3.

If the Buccaneers win out – their only major challenge will be this week’s home game against Buffalo – they’d finish 14-3.

If that’s how it plays out, the Packers would win the tiebreaker and capture the No. 1 seed. Here’s why: In a three-team tie, the first tiebreaker is head-to-head but only if all three teams played each other. That didn’t happen. The second tiebreaker is conference record. Green Bay and Arizona have two conference losses while Tampa Bay has three. That would eliminate the Buccaneers. The tiebreaker then goes back to the top, which is where Green Bay’s win at Arizona in Week 8 would be the difference.

All three teams will play three games at home and two on the road. While Green Bay (at Baltimore) and Tampa Bay (vs. Buffalo) will play only one team with a winning record, Arizona will play three: vs. the Rams this week, vs. Indianapolis in Week 16 and at Dallas in Week 17.

Of course, the No. 1 seed doesn’t guarantee anything other than a free pass out of the wild-card round. The Cardinals are 7-0 on the road this season with all seven wins coming by 10-plus points, and the Buccaneers won last year’s NFC title game at Lambeau Field.

As you’d expect, LaFleur isn’t focused on the horse race. His focus is on Sunday night’s home game against the Chicago Bears.

“That’s the way it is every year,” he said of the tight race at the top. “There’s a bunch of teams right at the top, and the thing is, you can only control what you can control in terms of how you prepare each and every week. We know that we’re going to have a great NFC North opponent in the Chicago Bears, a team that’s going to be very motivated. It’s Sunday Night Football, in Lambeau, and we know we’ll get their best shot, and we have to make sure that we prepare the way that we’re capable of and bring our ‘A’ game on Sunday night.”

NFC No. 1 Seed Contenders' Schedules

home vs. Chicago (4-8), at Baltimore (8-4), home vs. Cleveland (6-6), home vs. Minnesota (5-7), at Detroit (1-10-1). Total: 24-35-1. Home-away: 3-2. Winning record: 1.

Arizona: home vs. the Rams (8-4), at Detroit (1-10-1), home vs. Indianapolis (7-6), at Dallas (8-4), home vs. Seattle (4-8). Total: 28-32-1. Home-away: 3-2. Winning record: 3.

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home vs. Buffalo (7-4), home vs. New Orleans (5-7), at Carolina (5-7), at N.Y. Jets (3-9), home vs. Carolina (5-7). Total: 25-34. Home-away: 3-2. Winning record: 1.

Meanwhile, Green Bay could win the NFC North this week. If the Minnesota Vikings (5-7) lose at home to the Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5-1) on Thursday night and the Packers beat the Bears (4-8) on Sunday night, they’ll wrap up their third consecutive division crown.

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