By Simon Evans
(Reuters) - The unbeaten Green Bay Packers can secure their place in the playoffs and take a step towards the 'perfect season' when they face the New York Giants on Sunday while the San Francisco 49ers could join them in the post-season with a win over St.Louis.
The schedule has not been kind to the Giants who come off Monday night's 49-24 mauling in New Orleans and now face the 11-0 Super Bowl champion Packers and the league's most feared quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
There are numerous ways that Green Bay can make sure of a playoff place with a quarter of the regular season remaining, the most obvious being a victory, but other scenarios include losses for Chicago, Atlanta or Detroit.
But the Packers, who will already be aiming for home field advantage in the playoffs, are not going to be giving much time to calculations.
The elusive unbeaten record of the 1972 Miami Dolphins is a topic that few challengers are willing to discuss and Rodgers is no exception, insisting the motivation, even at this stage, has nothing to do with the record books.
"It is motivating to go out every week and compete better than you did the previous. We have been able to play the way we wanted to play consistently the first 11 games. We will see what happens when we get down this road a little bit," Rodgers said on Wednesday.
"It is not something that we vocally talk about as a goal. Our goal is to win the division first, get a home game and give ourselves a chance and go from there," he added.
GROUP OF SEVEN
Victory would move the Packers' unbeaten streak to 18, including last season's playoff wins, and another triumph would put them in the group of seven teams to have reached that total - including, two great pre-war Chicago Bears teams - a point that won't be lost on the Green Bay fanbase.
Only the New England Patriots, who went 21 games unbeaten between 2003 and 2004, stand above that group on 18.
The Giants don't need much reminding that unbeaten streaks do come to an end - they famously ended the Patriots' hopes of a perfect season with a victory in the 2007 Super Bowl that ended New England's run that season at 18 games.
The Giants (6-5) still have a shout at the playoffs themselves but they have a tough schedule and will need to pull off a few surprises if they are to keep their hopes alive.
The 49ers (9-2) have a five game cushion in the NFC West and a win or a tie will be enough to secure the division for Jim Harbaugh in his first season since moving from the college game.
Perhaps the closest fought game will be in New Orleans where the Detroit Lions (7-4) badly need an upset win after losing two of their last three.
That task will be made even tougher if, as expected, Ndamukong Suh's suspension is upheld, despite an appeal from the defensive tackle.
In Houston, the Texans, who have lost two quarterbacks to injury, turn to third-stringer T.J. Yates against Atlanta.
The Falcons (7-4) trail New Orleans (8-3) in the NFC South and will be hoping for at least a wildcard spot while Houston must try to hold on to top spot in the AFC South.
(Editing by Rex Gowar)