With three games left in the regular season, the easiest route for the Minnesota Vikings to get to the postseason is taking care of what they can control by winning all three of their remaining games. That’s a lot easier said than done when the next two opponents are the Los Angeles Rams and the Green Bay Packers.
While it isn’t the last one, Sunday’s game will ultimately decide the Vikings’ playoff fate.
Minnesota is clinging to the last playoff spot. If the postseason started now, they’d be on the road taking on the Dallas Cowboys. While they would sign up for that at the moment, they need to fend off four other teams in the mix — two of whom, the New Orleans Saints and Philadelphia Eagles, have the same record. The tone-setter for the Vikings is the game this Sunday against LA.
New Orleans will be hosting the Miami Dolphins on Monday Night Football in Week 16. Miami has won six in a row, but New Orleans is favored to win. Meanwhile, Philadelphia will be hosting Mike Glennon and the discombobulated mess that is the New York Giants. Out of the three 7-7 squads, Minnesota has the most challenging Week 16 tilt. They do in Week 17 as well when they will head to Green Bay to take on the Packers. That week, the Saints host the tail-spinning Carolina Panthers, and the Eagles play the Washington Football Team for the second time in three weeks. Losing to LA would pretty much quash any hope Minnesota still has left.
According to FiveThirtyEight, the Vikings have a 29% chance to make the playoffs at the moment. It’s 36% for the Eagles and 45% for the Saints. More than anything else, these percentages have more to do with who’s left on the slate for each of the 7-7 teams.
A win against the Rams would raise Minnesota’s chances to 50% before factoring in any other result. For those willing to yield an Eagles win over Glennon and a Saints win at home over the Dolphins, the Vikings’ 50% chance drops to 46% — but it’s still an improvement. That’s how important Sunday’s game is for Minnesota.
Losing to LA and then going to Green Bay, who will still be playing for the lone bye, could lead to a lost locker room for Mike Zimmer. While a loss doesn’t mathematically eliminate Minnesota, it does drop their likelihood of making the postseason to 11%, and that’s before considering any result for the Eagles or Saints. And they aren’t the only teams lurking around.
Washington is 6-8, as are the Atlanta Falcons. The WFT has a challenging road game against Dallas, and the Falcons will play host to the suddenly red-hot Detroit Lions. A Vikings loss paired with a win by either of these teams would bury Minnesota.
There are so many dots to connect and lines to match up, but what it really comes down to for Minnesota is beating LA. The numbers can be condensed quite simply: A win and the Vikings have a 46% chance to make the playoffs, losing drops their chances 11%. That’s a massive swing.
Aaron Donald is his usual dominant self, and Akiem Hicks showed how lethal an interior defensive line could be against the Vikings. Minnesota’s No. 1 priority for Sunday has to be figuring out ways to neutralize Donald. If it takes double teams, so be it. They can’t let him take over a game and wreck it for the Vikings. And he’s not the only one Minnesota will be scheming for.
LA is on a bit of a roll after a midseason skid. They’ve put together three-straight wins, including back-to-back victories against division rivals in the Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks. Cooper Kupp has been a problem for every defense, and Matthew Stafford continues to put up one impressive stat line after another. Minnesota will have their hands full, but if they piece together a solid performance — the exact opposite of what they did Monday night — this should be a coin-flip matchup.
Minnesota can’t lock up a spot on Sunday, nor can they be eliminated from postseason contention. However, the writing is on the wall with this one. Comparing and contrasting schedules among all the teams battling for one of the last wild card spots makes it even more apparent that this is the game that will ultimately decide the fate of the Minnesota Vikings’ 2021-22 season.