With almost all of Week 14 in the books in the National Football League, it's time to take a look at the playoff picture in the NFC and how the Minnesota Vikings fit into things.
Current Playoff Teams
As of now, the top seed in the conference belongs to the Carolina Panthers, still undefeated at 13-0. They've now locked up the NFC South and a first-round bye. At this point, any combination of victories by the Panthers and losses by the Arizona Cardinals that adds up to two (two Panthers victories, two Cardinals losses, or one of each) would officially give the Panthers the NFC's top seed and ensure that the road to the Super Bowl in the NFC runs through Charlotte.
Speaking of the Cardinals, they sit at 11-2 and hold the #2 seed in the NFC. Contrary to what I said the other day, the Cardinals have not clinched the NFC West. . .if they were to lose out and the Seattle Seahawks were to win out, the Seahawks would win the NFC West. However, if the Cardinals win one more game or the Seahawks lose one more, Arizona officially wins that division. They can clinch a first-round bye with any combination of Cardinals victories and losses by the Green Bay Packers that add up to two.
Finishing stretch: at Philadelphia Eagles, vs Green Bay Packers, vs Seattle Seahawks
The Packers are currently the #3 seed in the NFC with a 9-4 record. They pretty much need one more victory to get into the playoffs, as that would get them ten wins. It's important to note that if the Vikings should pass the Packers to win the NFC North and the Packers and Seahawks wound up as the two Wild Cards with the same record, the Packers would get a higher seeding that the Seahawks based on their head-to-head victory back in Week 2. Also, the Packers have to make two trips out west before the season finale, which could make things interesting.
Finishing stretch: at Oakland Raiders, at Arizona Cardinals, vs Minnesota Vikings
As it stands right now, the Washington Redskins sit atop the NFC East with the #4 seed, and man I'm not even going to try to untangle that scenario. The NFC East teams aren't really a threat to the wild card spots, as both the Seahawks and Vikings are at least two games clear of all of them, and they'll be playing each other and beating each other up over the final three weeks of the season. There's still a fairly plausible scenario where all four NFC East teams finish 7-9. . .as if it wasn't crazy enough over there.
The first wild card spot goes to the Seattle Seahawks, who. . .as the Vikings got to see first-hand. . .are getting hot at the right time. They have two home games remaining against teams that aren't very good, and they could have a shot at the NFC West if Arizona somehow loses their next two. They've officially gotten the label of the "team nobody wants to play" in January, and appear to be destined for the #5 seed and a date with whoever comes out of the NFC East.
Which brings us to the current #6 seed, your Minnesota Vikings. As of right now, they sit at 8-5 and two games clear of the rest of the wild card field. Technically, they still control their own destiny in terms of winning the NFC North. If they win their final three games, they're the division champs. If they win their next two games, they're looking at a NFC North division championship game at Lambeau Field in Week 17. If they win, their "reward" might be a date with the Seahawks (since, as we mentioned, the Packers head-to-head victory would put them ahead of Seattle in the seedings). If they lose, they likely get to play at Lambeau in two consecutive weeks, as they'd be back there for the Wild Card round of the playoffs.
The 6-7 teams at this point are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Atlanta Falcons, and (potentially) three teams from the NFC East pigpile. . .the Redskins, the Eagles, and the Giants (should they win on Monday Night Football tonight). As we've mentioned, the NFC East teams are going to do a lot of beating each other up over the final three weeks, so the odds of them making an impact on the Wild Card seem to be slim. The Falcons have already lost to the Vikings head-to-head, so they're essentially three back with three to play.
The Buccaneers appear to have the best shot at crashing the party at this point. Any combination of Vikings wins and Buccaneers losses that add up to two would eliminate Tampa Bay. Some of that could come to fruition on Thursday, as the Buccaneers play the Rams on Thursday night football.
Depending on what site you look at, the Vikings have anywhere from a 90% to 95% likelihood to make the playoffs. They'd have to really screw things up at this point to not make it. . .which is precisely why Viking fans are still nervous.
Finishing stretch: vs Chicago Bears, vs New York Giants, at Green Bay Packers
Outside Looking In
We've touched on Tampa Bay briefly here, and their schedule isn't terribly hard the rest of the way. Still, a match-up with the Carolina Panthers looms in Week 17. . .nobody knows what Ron Rivera and company are going to do if they lock up a first-round bye and/or have a chance at going undefeated. Still, like I've mentioned, the Bucs probably pose the greatest threat to the Vikings' post-season hopes at this point.
Finishing stretch: at St. Louis Rams (Thursday night), vs Chicago Bears, vs Carolina Panthers
Mathematically, the Atlanta Falcons (6-7) still have a pulse. Realistically, this team couldn't have fallen off the cliff any faster if they were being chauffered by Toonces the Driving Cat. The Vikings would have to lose out and the Falcons would have to win out in order to pass the Vikings. I don't think either of those things are happening.
In Chip Kelly-land, the Philadelphia Eagles are in the NFC East fight at 6-7. They have two games remaining against their NFC East foes after a Sunday night date with Arizona. If they want to make the playoffs, they're probably going to have to win both of those.
Finishing stretch: vs Arizona Cardinals, vs Washington Redskins, at New York Giants
The Giants play the final game of Week 14 when they travel to Florida to take on the Miami Dolphins on Monday Night Football. If they lose that one, they're going to fall to 5-8 and make the NFC East a little less messy. Like the Eagles and the Redskins, the path to the playoffs for them probably lies in winning their division. And like the Eagles and the Redskins, they don't appear to be much of a threat to the Vikings.
Finishing stretch: at Miami Dolphins (Monday night), vs Carolina Panthers, at Minnesota Vikings, vs Philadelphia Eagles
And that's an in-depth look at the NFC playoff picture, folks. Hopefully that clarifies things for anyone that might have had questions.