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As you've probably seen by this point, if the 2012 NFL season were to end today, the Minnesota Vikings would be the #6 seed in the NFC playoffs. As you've probably heard by this point, despite that fact, the Vikings are not in control of their own destiny when it comes to the playoff hunt. You may be channeling your inner juggalo and asking yourself "How does that work?"
(Not safe for work language at the link. . .though my use of the word "juggalo" probably should have tipped you off to that.)
Let me attempt to explain it here. For the purposes of this scenario, let's assume that we know four of the six teams that will comprise the NFC playoff field. The Atlanta Falcons are in as the NFC South champions, and likely to be the #1 overall seed. The Green Bay Packers are in as the NFC North Champions, and the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks will both make the playoffs from the NFC West, one as the division champion and one as the wild card. The NFC East champ will also get into the field, so there are a bunch of teams fighting for one spot.
The teams that are fighting for that spot are the five teams in the NFC that are all sitting at 8-6. Those teams are as follows, as well as the games they finish their season against.
Minnesota Vikings (at Houston, vs. Green Bay)
Chicago Bears (at Arizona, at Detroit)
Washington Redskins (at Philadelphia, vs. Dallas)
Dallas Cowboys (vs. New Orleans, at Washington)
New York Giants (at Baltimore, vs. Philadelphia)
For the tiebreaker scenarios, keep in mind that tiebreakers within a division are done before those that go across divisions. For example, in any scenario where the Vikings and the Bears both finish 10-6, the Vikings would trump the Bears by virtue of a superior division record (the Vikings would be 4-2 against the NFC North in such a scenario, and the Bears would be 3-3). That would eliminate the Bears from being a part of any other tiebreaker against any of the NFC East teams.
Also, as you can see, the three NFC East squads can't all finish 10-6, as the Redskins and Cowboys will play each other at FedEx Field in the final game of the season. (Anyone want to wager on whether or not that game gets the final NBC Sunday Night Football spot of the season?) So, either the Cowboys or the Redskins will finish no better than 9-7.
So, let me attempt to break this down as best I can. . .under the assumption that the Vikings get to 10-6 and eliminate the Bears, the assumption that the 49ers win the NFC West, and the assumption that the Seahawks remain the top wild card team. . .here's how the Vikings would stack up with the three NFC East under just about every scenario I can think of. And no, I'm not throwing in ties. If someone feels ambitious enough to figure all that out, then shine on, you crazy diamond.
Here we go.
Vikings 10-6, Redskins 10-6, Giants 10-6, Cowboys 9-7 or 8-8:
Washington makes playoffs as #4 seed (NFC East Champ), New York makes playoffs as #6 seed (wild card), Minnesota out, Dallas out
Vikings 10-6, Cowboys 10-6, Giants 10-6, Redskins 9-7 or 8-8:
Dallas makes playoffs as #4 seed (NFC East Champ), New York makes playoffs as #6 seed (wild card), Minnesota out, Washington out
Vikings 10-6, Redskins 10-6, Giants 9-7 or 8-8, Cowboys 9-7 or 8-8
Washington makes playoffs as #4 seed (NFC East Champ), Minnesota makes playoffs as #6 seed (wild card), New York out, Dallas out
Vikings 10-6, Giants 10-6, Redskins 9-7 or 8-8, Cowboys 9-7 or 8-8
New York makes playoffs as #4 seed (NFC East Champ), Minnesota makes playoffs as #6 seed (wild card), Washington out, Dallas out
Vikings 10-6, Cowboys 10-6, Redskins 9-7 or 8-8, Giants 9-7 or 8-8
Dallas makes playoffs as #4 seed (NFC East Champ), Minnesota makes playoffs as #6 seed (wild card), Redskins out, Giants out
Basically. . .the Vikings need to get to 10-6, and hope that only one of the three NFC East teams (rather than two) gets to 10-6. In a three-way tie at 10-6 with the Giants and either the Redskins or the Cowboys, the Vikings find themselves on the outside looking in. Remember, the best the NFC East can do is two 10-6 teams, as the Week 17 match-up between Dallas and Washington could potentially serve as an elimination game if both teams enter at 9-6.
The Vikings could get in at 9-7 if the following happens:
-Chicago splits their final two games to finish 9-7, in which case Minnesota would still win the tiebreaker against them (I believe through the "common opponents" thebreaker)
-Washington finishes 10-6 and wins the NFC East and New York and Dallas both finish the year at 9-7
-Washington, New York, and Dallas all finish 9-7 along with Minnesota
In either of those scenarios, the Redskins would remain the NFC East Champions and the #4 seed, while Minnesota would get in as the #6 seed. I'm pretty sure those are both correct, anyway.
And, if you can believe it, the Vikings could even back themselves into the playoffs at 8-8 if. . .and this is probably expecting a lot. . .if Chicago, New York, and Dallas all lose their final two games of the year and also finish at 8-8. That's a long shot at best, however.
I'm relatively sure that all of these scenarios are accurate. (At least, that's what the Yahoo! Playoff Scenario Generator gave me.) If they're not, please put something in the comments and I will effort to research and/or correct them as best I can.
If the Vikings can continue to win, things will (hopefully) take care of themselves. At the risk of pulling a Madden here, the fewer games you win, the less chance you have of making the playoffs. If the Vikings make it to 10-6, a lot of things would have to go against them for them not to get in.
Then again, these are the Minnesota Vikings we're talking about. We've seen this movie a couple of times before, I think. Hopefully, this time, the good guys will win.