Arizona's Loss is Truly Minnesota's Gain

With a playoff spot already assured and focus now set on a first-round playoff bye, the Vikings got a pleasant surprise last night when the San Francisco 49ers forced seven Arizona turnovers last night en route to defeating the Cardinals 24-9 on Monday Night Football.  This loss was big in the race for the #2 seed in the NFC as far as the Vikings are concerned.  How so?  Here's a breakdown of the playoff contenders as they currently sit.

 

Current Record

Conference Record

Games Left

(1) New Orleans

13-0

9-0

DAL, TB, @ CAR

(2) Minnesota

11-2

8-1

@ CAR, @ CHI, NYG

(3) Philadelphia

9-4

8-2

SF, DEN, @ DAL

(4) Arizona

8-5

6-3

@ DET, STL, GB

(5) Green Bay

9-4

7-3

@ PIT, SEA, @ ARI

(6) Dallas

8-5

6-3

@ NO, @ WAS, PHI

(7) N.Y. Giants

7-6

5-4

@ WAS, CAR, @ MIN

(8) Atlanta

6-7

5-6

@ NYJ, BUF, @ TB

(9) San Francisco

6-7

5-4

@ PHI, DET, @ STL

What Arizona's loss does for Minnesota in terms of the post-season seeding race is puts them one step closer to the all-important #2 seed.  The Cardinals would hold a head-to-head advantage over the Vikings for that spot because of their victory last week, but the only way that scenario plays out now is if Minnesota loses their last three games and Arizona runs the table from here on out.  One more Minnesota victory will also officially lock up the NFC North for the Vikings, and we could know whether or not the Vikes are division champions before they take the field on Sunday night, as the Packers will have already finished their game with Pittsburgh prior to that.

It appears that the team the Vikings need to be the most concerned with right now is the Philadelphia Eagles.  The Eagles are two games behind Minnesota in terms of overall record, and the first tie-breaker is conference record.  While Minnesota is done with the AFC and has only conference games remaining, the Eagles have two NFC games sandwiched around an inter-conference matchup with the Denver Broncos to finish their schedule.

Based on those numbers, the Vikings have a "magic number" of 2 for the second seed in the NFC playoffs, which means that any combination of Minnesota wins and Philadelphia losses that adds up to two. . .whether it's two Viking victories, two Eagle losses, or one of each. . .will give the Vikings the first-round bye they're looking for.

Obviously, the easiest way to go about this is to beat Carolina and Chicago in the next two weeks and not have to worry about what Philadelphia is doing.  Granted, the Panthers and Bears are both teams that the Vikings should beat, but both of those games are on the road, and the weather isn't projected to be terribly good. . .the temperature at kickoff in Charlotte is forecast to be in the lower 40s/upper 30s and getting colder as the night progresses, and I don't even want to speculate about what the temperatures at Chicago are going to look like at kickoff.  But both of those games are eminently winnable for the Vikings, and could render the Week 17 matchup against the Giants moot.  This is good because, really, do you want to rely on the Dallas Cowboys beating Philly in the season finale to secure that #2 spot for Minnesota?  Given recent history. . .I sure don't.

But as it stands now, the Vikings are on the verge of being able to give their players some significant rest going into the post-season if they can take care of business and secure the NFC's second spot.  So, a week after the meltdown in the desert, the Vikings are back on the right track and, hopefully, headed towards a week off and a home playoff game against a tired, weakened opponent.

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