With the Minnesota Vikings completing a sweep of the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on Saturday night, the purple have made things very simple for themselves in terms of getting a first-round bye. If they can beat the Chicago Bears in the regular season finale at U.S. Bank Stadium next week, they will lock up a first-round bye regardless of what everyone else does.
However, the Vikings can wrap up a first round bye before then if they get a few things to bounce their way. If they can manage to get a lot of bounces, the #1 overall seed in the NFC playoffs could still be in play as well.
Now that the Vikings have 12 wins, the only scenario in which they do not get a first round bye is a scenario where the Vikings and the Carolina Panthers are the only two teams in the NFC that finish 12-4. (This would, of course, include the Vikings losing to the Bears next Sunday.) If a team other than the Panthers wins the NFC South, the Vikings are in as the #2 seed. If the Vikings get into a three-way tie with the NFC West champions (presumably the Los Angeles Rams) and the NFC South Champion (whoever it would be, including the Panthers) at 12-4, the Vikings would still get the #2 seed and the first-round bye.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the games around the NFC in the remainder of Week 16 and talk about how we want things to go.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Carolina Panthers (FOX, noon Central) - Cheer for Tampa Bay
This is the easy one. If the Panthers lose on Sunday, the Vikings clinch a first-round bye. That’s it.
Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints (FOX, noon Central) - Probably doesn’t matter, but. . .
Okay, this one is a little different. The Saints have the inside track to the NFC South at this point. However, the thought of cheering for the Saints makes me want to take a 90-minute shower, so I’ll present the alternative. If the Falcons win out, they’ll win the NFC South (because they play Carolina in Week 17). If the Saints win out, they’ll win the NFC South.
Basically, I think you can cheer for whichever of these two teams you want to this week, but then you have to cheer for them next week as well. Either of these two teams winning the NFC South is good. Carolina winning the NFC South is potentially problematic.
Los Angeles Rams at Tennessee Titans (FOX, noon Central) - Cheer for Los Angeles
The Rams winning is important if Carolina wins. That would allow the Rams to keep pace with the Panthers (as well as wrap up the NFC West) and keep them a part of any potential three-way tie scenario with the Vikings and the NFC South winner. If Carolina loses, this doesn’t matter. Frankly, if Carolina loses, none of the other stuff in this post matters. So, if it isn’t already clear, cheer for Tampa Bay on Sunday.
Detroit Lions at Cincinnati Bengals (FOX, noon Central) - Meh
The Lions could still be fighting for a postseason spot with Atlanta (if the Falcons lose to New Orleans) and the winner of the Seattle/Dallas game from the late games (more on that momentarily). Depending on how strongly you feel about those team, you might want the Lions to still have a shot at the playoffs in Week 17. Then again, as we saw last week, it would appear as though the Bengals have already mailed in the rest of this season, so the Lions will likely win whether we like it or not.
Seattle Seahawks at Dallas Cowboys (FOX, 3:25 PM Central) - Cheer for Dallas
This one is going to end up being connected to the next game on the list. This is, literally, an elimination game between these two teams, with the loser being out of the playoff chase. Dallas will finish the season with a trip to Philadelphia in Week 17. If they’re still alive for a shot at the postseason, they’re going to want to go into Philadelphia and fight their tails off, which would be particularly helpful if. . .
Oakland Raiders at Philadelphia Eagles (ESPN, 7:30 PM Central on Monday) - Cheer for Oakland
. . .the Raiders can walk into Philadelphia and pull off what would be a significant upset. The only way the Vikings have a chance at the #1 seed in the NFC is for the Eagles to lose both of their remaining two games while the Vikings win against the Chicago Bears in Week 17. If the Eagles win this one, they will wrap up the #1 overall seed in the NFC. If they lose this one, they could potentially be in a dogfight in Week 17 with their division rivals from Dallas, who could be playing for their postseason lives.
So, that’s a brief look at how we should probably be hoping for the rest of the Week 16 action in the NFC to play out as far as the Vikings’ odds of clinching a first-round bye. According to the folks from 538, the Vikings now have a 99% chance of getting that week off in the playoffs, but all that means. . .particularly to those of us that have been at this for a while. . .is that nothing is written in stone yet.