For the next few weeks, Vikings reporter Sam Ekstrom will update you on where the Vikings stand in the NFC playoff picture.
WHAT WERE THE RELEVANT WEEK 12 RESULTS?
- In the game everybody was watching Sunday night, the San Francisco 49ers did the Minnesota Vikings a favor by walloping the Green Bay Packers 37-8 on national television. The Packers’ loss evens their record with the Vikings at 8-3, but Green Bay owns the division-record tiebreaker thanks to their perfect NFC North mark (3-0), which is two games clear of the Vikings’ (1-2).
- The Vikings could have used an upset from the Carolina Panthers, who gave the New Orleans Saints all they could handle in the Big Easy. If Panthers kicker Joey Slye hadn’t gotten the yips and missed two extra points and a 28-yard field goal in the closing minutes, Minnesota could be in control of their destiny for the no. 2 seed, but the Saints walked off on a Wil Lutz field goal as time expired. Now the Saints are 9-2 and a game up on the Vikings in the NFC standings.
- Seattle went on the road and defeated the Philadelphia Eagles 17-9 in a game that didn’t feel that close. That gave Seattle a 9-2 mark, one game up on the Vikings in the Wild Card standings and one game back of NFC West-leading San Francisco. If the Seahawks beat the Vikings in Week 13, it gives them a de facto three-game lead in the Wild Card standings by virtue of the tiebreaker and makes Minnesota’s path to a home playoff game extremely difficult.
HOW DOES THE NFC NORTH RACE SHAPE UP?
It’s a two-team race in the NFC North with the Vikings and Packers three games clear of the Bears, who are virtually out of the playoff picture. Analytics website FiveThirtyEight.com gives the Vikings a 49% chance to win the NFC North.
Minnesota’s remaining schedule is as follows: @ Seahawks, vs. Lions, @ Chargers, vs. Packers, vs. Bears. The Vikings will be underdogs at Seattle, likely heavy favorites against the Lions and Bears and probably moderate favorites against the Chargers and Packers. Let’s say the Vikings lose at Seattle, where they haven’t won in 13 years. That means they’ll need to win their final four games and get some assistance from the Packers to win the division, but Green Bay has four below-.500 opponents remaining aside from the Vikings: @ Giants, vs. Redskins, vs. Bears, @ Lions.
The Vikings can ill afford a single slip-up with the Packers’ seemingly destined for 12 wins. Barring a setback against the Bears or Lions, Green Bay will control the tiebreaker.
WHO COULD CHALLENGE THE VIKINGS’ WILD CARD POSITION?
Right now, the Los Angeles Rams are the only team seemingly capable of making a run at the Vikings, but they’ll have to beat Baltimore Monday night to have a chance. A win against Lamar Jackson and Co. would put them at 7-4, one game back of Minnesota with a chance to pull even in Week 13 if the Vikings lose to Seattle. A loss Monday night and the Rams are two games out of a playoff spot with the Vikings holding a 1.5-game lead in the conference-record tiebreaker. FiveThirtyEight has the Vikings at a 91% chance to make the playoffs, which will only rise with a Rams loss versus the Ravens.
HOW CAN THE VIKINGS GET A NO. 2 SEED?
Let’s assume for a moment that the Vikings do catch the Packers and win the NFC North. How realistic is a second seed, which gives Minnesota a bye? FiveThirtyEight gives this a 29% chance of happening.
If the Vikings win the division with 12 victories, the Saints would have to lose twice to create a tie. New Orleans has a challenging remaining schedule: @ Falcons (Thursday night), vs. 49ers, vs. Colts, @ Titans, @ Panthers. The San Francisco game in Week 14 presents a great chance for the Saints to lose, and going outdoors for their final two games of the season may open the door for an upset as well. A tie would be broken by the teams’ conference record, which is currently separated by a half game (Saints 7-2, Vikings 6-2). Vikings fans should be cheering for the Saints to lose to NFC opponents, and if Minnesota has to lose one game in this scenario, fans would want it to be at L.A. in Week 15.
If the Vikings run the table and win the division with 13 wins, they’ll be in great shape for a bye, assuming the Saints lose at least once. But if they tie with 13 wins and conclude with identical conference records, then the Vikings could be in trouble. Assuming the Saints beat the Falcons on Thursday, the teams would likely end up with the same 4-1 record in common games, sending the tiebreaker to strength of victory, where the Saints have a commanding lead.
IS IT POSSIBLE FOR THE VIKINGS TO GET A NO. 1 SEED?
Sure, it’s possible. But not likely. For this scenario to come to fruition, here’s how it would likely have to go down:
- Vikings win out and win the NFC North, securing the head-to-head tiebreaker over Seattle in the process
- Saints lose one NFC game, but beat San Francisco in Week 14
- San Francisco also loses at Seattle in Week 17, giving the Vikings the conference record tiebreaker over 49ers
In this scenario, Minnesota would win each tiebreaker. It’s not the most absurd sequence of events, but it hinges on the Vikings winning the rest of their games. If that happens, things should work themselves out in their favor.