The Green Bay Packers were ruled out by many as playoff contenders after a 4-8 start, and NFL history suggests doing so wasn’t at all unreasonable.
With a win Sunday against the Detroit Lions, the Packers can become just the second team to overcome a 4-8 start and make the playoffs and just the third team to win four or fewer games through 12 games and make the playoffs.
The 2004 San Diego Chargers started 4-8, rattled off four-straight wins to get to 8-8 and snuck into the playoffs as the AFC West champion.
The 2014 Carolina Panthers started 3-7-1 but finished 8-9-1 – thanks, once again, to a four-game win streak to end the year – and got into the postseason as the NFC South champion.
The Packers won’t be division champs if they beat the Lions; the Minnesota Vikings clinched the title weeks ago. But the Packers could be a dangerous playoff team in the NFC field if Matt LaFleur’s team gets in on the back of a five-game win streak.
Of course, neither the Chargers nor the Panthers had the benefit of a seventh seed in each conference. Both teams had to win the division to make the playoffs. A seventh seed in the NFC means staying alive longer, and the Packers took advantage – both by winning and getting help from other teams crumbling. And their path isn’t new: Just last year, the Philadelphia Eagles overcame a 3-6 start to finish 9-8 and make it in as the No. 7 seed. The Packers were also 3-6 this year. The Eagles ended up losing to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC Wild Card Round.
How did the Chargers and Panthers fare in the postseason?
The Chargers won at home in the AFC Wild Card Round against the Indianapolis Colts but lost in the divisional round to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the eventual Super Bowl champion.
The Panthers won at home in the NFC Wild Card Round against the Arizona Cardinals but lost in the divisional round to the Seattle Seahawks, the eventual NFC champions.
If the Packers make the postseason, they will go on the road to play the No. 2 seed in the first round of the NFC playoffs.
The Lions also have a chance to make history. With a Rams win over the Seahawks and a Lions win over the Packers, Detroit – once 1-6 – will become just the second-ever team to make the playoffs after winning just one game in the first seven games of a season. The Cincinnati Bengals in 1970 were the first and last to do so.