When the Minnesota Vikings stumbled to a 31-24 loss to the Carolina Panthers yesterday, the outcome between the Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles loomed large for the Vikings and their quest to secure the top seed in the NFC.
That game was a mixed bag of news for the Vikes. The Eagles won the game, and in the process won the NFC East, clinched a playoff spot, and put them in commanding position to grab homefield for the playoffs. But they lost QB and MVP candidate Carson Wentz to an ACL injury, and it’s been reported by the NFL Network that he is most likely out for the season. It’s the most Pyrrhic of victories for Philly, and the Wentz injury could possibly re-shape the NFC playoff picture.
That’s a huge loss for the Eagles, as Nick Foles will now be their QB for the foreseeable future. And although it seems almost distasteful to talk about an opportunity for the Vikings because of this injury...but there’s an opportunity for the Vikings because of this injury.
I know last night Fearless Leader talked playoffs and number two seeding here, but let’s look at what it would take for the Vikings to get the top spot in the NFC.
Both the Eagles and Vikings have three games remaining: For Philly, they play at the Giants (2-11), and then home against the Raiders (6-7) and Cowboys (7-6). For the Vikes it’s home against the Bengals (5-8), at That Team From Wisconsin (7-6), and home against the Bears (4-9).
Let’s look at some scenarios.
If the Eagles lose to the Giants and the Vikings win, they’re both 11-3 and since the Vikes had the top spot last week with an identical record to Philly the VIKINGS MOVE TO THE TOP SP...hold on. According to the ESPN Playoff Machine, the Eagles still hold the top spot due to tiebreakers, and would hold the top seed if both teams end up winning their last two games. As a matter of fact, any combination of wins and losses I put into the simulator that results in the Vikings and Eagles ending up at 12-4 or 13-3 gives the Eagles a tiebreaker, and the Vikings fall short.
Edit—EXCEPT THIS ONE (thanks to kw09 for pointing this out): If the Vikings lose to the Bengals, but beat the Packers and Bears, and the Eagles beat the Raiders but lose to the Cowboys and Giants, they would both have 12-4 records. In this case, because the Vikings would have a better conference record, they would have homefield advantage.
So, for any shot at having homefield the Vikings just need to run the table to make things simple, and the Eagles need to lose two of the next three. That would put the Vikings at 13-3, and the Eagles at 12-4, and home for the playoffs.
Does the optimist in me see two losses on the Eagles schedule? Of course! I can even see three losses, which, in a worst case scenario could drop the Eagles down to the third seed, depending on what happens elsewhere.
But for now, let’s just stay focused on the top two seeds. There are still a ton of variables to see how this all plays out, and the Vikings have some key injuries of their own right now. 60% of their starting offensive line is out, and that was a big problem yesterday. It seems like C Pat Elflein will be back soon, but RT Mike Remmers has now missed over a month, and we are still awaiting an update on LT Riley Reiff, who left yesterday’s game with an ankle injury. If the Vikings are going to run the table, they need all three of those guys back, and soon, or this ‘what if’ game we’re playing really won’t matter.
The bottom line in all this is that the odds are still with Philadelphia, because they need to lose two of their final three games, and the Vikings need to win out and have a better record to get homefield throughout the playoffs.
As for the Vikings clinching a playoff spot, Five Thirty Eight has them at a greater than 99% chance to make the playoffs, an 83% shot at a first round bye, and all the Vikings need to do is win one more game to win the NFC North.
So, TL; DR: Top seed is a long shot, number two seed looks pretty, pretty, pretty good, and the playoffs are pretty much a lock.
/rubs lucky rabbit foot