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What the Vikings/Lions Game Means to Minnesota's Playoff Run

While we've managed to basically ignore the Vikings/Lions game this week, that's something that the members of the Beloved Purple themselves simply can't afford to do. This game is a big one in the tiebreaker scenarios that could come about if the Vikings end up tied with any team in the division. Here's how the current NFC North standings shake out:

NFC North Standings

Minnesota 7 5 0 287 260
Chicago 6 6 0 281 268
Green Bay 5 7 0 334 295
Detroit 0 12 0 203 393

(updated 12.5.2008 at 11:12 AM CST)

To break it down further, the Vikings are currently 3-2 against the division and 5-3 against the conference. The Bears are also 3-2 against the division, but their conference record is worse at 5-5. Green Bay has the best division record at 3-1, but they're also 4-6 against the NFC. All four of Minnesota's remaining games are against conference foes, with today's game against the Lions being their last divisional game. Chicago and Green Bay each have 2 games remaining against NFC teams, and the Bears have one game remaining against an NFC North division opponent while Green Bay has two.

The list of tiebreakers to decide division races in the NFL looks like this:

  1. Head-to-head (best won-lost-tied percentage in games between the clubs).
  2. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the division.
  3. Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games.
  4. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the conference.

There's way more than those, but those are the ones that we mainly need to concern ourselves with at this point. Starting with head-to-head, the Vikings are 1-1 this year against both the Packers and the Bears, so we can toss that one out straight away.

Looking at the division records, a win for Minnesota today would push their division record to 4-2, a mark that Chicago could do no better than tie, and that Green Bay could pass if they win their two remaining games against Chicago and Detroit. Loosely translated, we need Green Bay to lose at least one at some point. . .and I have no worries about that happening. . .but it would be most ideal if they lost to the Bears in their rematch at Soldier Field in a couple of weeks to drop them to a 4-2 (at best) mark against the division.

As far as the common games tiebreaker, if you take out the games the division teams play against each other, they have 10 games against common opponents. Each team only has two other opponents on their schedule that are different from the other two teams. The Vikings' opponents for those games are Arizona and the New York Giants, Chicago got the St. Louis Rams and the Philadelphia Eagles, and the Packers got the Dallas Cowboys and Seattle Seahawks. Looking at how they've fared against their common opponents, here's how those standings look right now:

Opponent Minnesota Chicago Green Bay
Indianapolis LOSS WIN WIN
New Orleans WIN X LOSS
Detroit WIN WIN X
Houston WIN X X
Jacksonville WIN X X
@ Detroit X WIN WIN
Final Record 5-3 3-4 2-5

I'm pretty sure that the Detroit games count as far as common opponents go. If they don't. . .and I don't see why they wouldn't. . .then change Minnesota's record to 4-3, Chicago's to 1-4, and Green Bay's to 2-5. But I'm going to assume that they do for now.

A win today against the Lions would give the Vikings a 6-3 record against common opponents with only Atlanta. . .a team that Chicago and Green Bay have both already lost to. . .remaining. Chicago could match those six victories if they swept the rest of their common opponents, and Green Bay couldn't match it even if they defeated Detroit, Houston, and Jacksonville, as that would only give them five victories against our common opponents.

I still think that 9-7 is what it's going to take to win this division. To get there, the Vikings need to go 2-2 starting today, the Bears would have to go 3-1, and Green Bay would have to run the table to end the season. Any loss for Green Bay would be devastating to their hopes, but the most devastating would be a loss to Chicago in Week in Week 16. That's because it would drop their division record to 3-2 (with one game remaining) and, as we've already determined, they wouldn't be able to catch the Vikings in the common opponents tiebreaker if the Vikings beat the Lions today. A loss to the Bears would essentially eliminate the Packers from playoff consideration, as they'd lose the tiebreaker to the Vikings even if both teams finished 8-8 with Green Bay's loss coming to Chicago.

So, if you think that this team can get to 9-7. . .and I certainly think that they can, with or without Pat and Kevin Williams being available. . .then the Bears need to lose a game (and it doesn't particularly matter which one, as any loss for the Bears would leave them unable to catch us in the common opponents tiebreaker), and the Packers also need to lose a game. . .doesn't really matter which one for them, either, but it would be really nice if it was to Chicago. That game at Soldier Field on Sunday night in Week 16 could, essentially, end up being an elimination game for one of those teams.

Make no mistake. . .today's game against the Lions will go a LONG ways in determining the NFC North champion. If the Vikings can win, they put a pretty decent stranglehold on most of the tiebreakers that could come up. If they lose. . .well, the Vikings probably don't deserve to go to the post-season anyway.

Game thread coming in a couple of hours, ladies and gentlemen. Hope to see you all here for it!