What Does the Playoff Picture Look Like For the Vikings?

Photo Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn (USA TODAY Sports)

Until the temperatures start to dip and ESPN puts up its “NFL Playoff Machine,” bringing up the playoff picture is malpractice and premature at best. However, it’s the middle of November, temperatures in the Midwest are dipping into the 30’s, and ESPN has finally posted the playoff machine. After two straight wins against likely playoff teams, it’s time to look ahead with the optimistic goggles on for the Minnesota Vikings.

Minnesota was 3-5 two weeks ago staring down the barrel of back-to-back games against the Los Angeles Chargers and the Green Bay Packers. Needing at worst to win one and keep their hopes alive, they instead won both and have firmly planted their flag in the NFC playoff picture.

After beating Green Bay, winning the division is unlikely unless Minnesota couples a big-time win streak with the Packers crumbling down the stretch. It’s not impossible, but it’s more realistic at this juncture to focus on the wild card.

If the playoffs started this week, the Vikings would be on the road against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It isn’t the most welcoming opportunity for Minnesota, but it’s better than the alternative — watching from home. The road ahead for the Vikings will give themselves opportunities to further cement their status.

Minnesota has the 24th toughest schedule remaining, according to opponent win percentage. There will be plenty of chances to pile up wins with two games left against the sinking Chicago Bears and one against the Detroit Lions. Of course, Vikings fans assume whatever can go wrong will go wrong, including in those games against the Bears and Lions. It’s hard to blame those people for having that mindset, especially after it took a 54-yard field goal from Greg Joseph to beat the Lions the first time around. However, perspective can be an amazing thing. For as many frustrating losses as Minnesota has, they’ve had an equal amount of nail-biting wins, including Sunday against the Packers. As a result, they are right in the mix amid an array of other teams in the NFC.

The Vikings, New Orleans Saints, and San Francisco 49ers all sit at 5-5. Minnesota owns the tiebreaker over both teams due to a better conference winning percentage. It’s perfect timing on the schedule then that the Vikings have another chance to add to the resume when they head west this week to take on the Niners. The Philadelphia Eagles and Carolina Panthers are staying within shouting distance at 4-6.

You can break apart every schedule and dive into best- and worst-case scenarios for the Vikings. But it will ultimately come down to Minnesota needing to win games they will be favored in for them to feel comfortable wrapping up a postseason berth later on in the year. Adding in a win in one of the games they won’t be favored in would be a nice cherry on top in a crowded and top-heavy NFC.

The AFC has turned into an absolute free for all, with no apparent favorite whatsoever. However, there’s a top tier in the NFC that features the likes of the Arizona Cardinals, Packers, Buccaneers, Los Angeles Rams, and Dallas Cowboys. This isn’t to suggest the Vikings couldn’t make their own run through the playoffs, but there’s a clear first and second tier in the conference right now. For Vikings fans, it should still leave a glass-half-full mindset.

Because of how things have shaken out in the NFC, Vikings fans shouldn’t focus nearly as much on what the Cardinals, Buccaneers, or Cowboys are doing down the stretch compared to other teams they are jockeying for position with like the 49ers, Saints, Panthers, and Eagles. It’s hard not to be optimistic when stacking up Minnesota’s chances to those teams in their grouping.

The Saints are rolling with Trevor Siemian at quarterback, and it was a disgusting outing on Sunday for New Orleans’ QB1. There aren’t many teams that would be intimidated about facing a Siemian-led squad in the playoffs.

Carolina is rolling with Cam Newton after his homecoming last week. It got off to a slow start after the Panthers lost at home on Sunday to Washington. Newton played fine, but the viral clips carry way too much attention compared to the product on the field.

Philadelphia is getting hot but is it sustainable? The Eagles have done a great job winning the games against lesser competition which is the play out of the playbook the Vikings need to utilize down the stretch. However, the schedule sets up super favorably for the Eagles. Philly will play the Giants twice, Washington twice, and at the New York Jets in the next five weeks. While Minnesota appears to have the better team, the Eagles are fighting for playoff seeding, not a first-round matchup.

Minnesota has put itself in a spot of discussion for the postseason after two much-needed, clutch wins. They’ll look to keep the good vibes going this week against the 49ers in what could be a game that is looked back upon in January as a turning point for better or for worse. Spend hours on the playoff machine going through every scenario, and one thing that will always be spit out in the results: The Vikings have an excellent chance at getting a wild card spot this year.

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