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Thoroughly breaking down all the Vikings’ playoff scenarios

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Since everyone’s going to ask over the next few days

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Now that the #1 seed in the NFC playoffs is no longer a possibility for the Minnesota Vikings, it’s time to take a look at all of the potential outcomes in their pursuit of the #2 seed. The good folks from 538, as we’ve mentioned in this space previously, give the purple a 99% chance of walking away with the second seed and a first-round bye. That’s pretty good, but we’re going to explain the why based on several different scenarios and the reasoning behind them.

It’s important to note that, the only tiebreakers that the Vikings need to worry about concern the champions of the other two divisions (the Philadelphia Eagles have already clinched the #1 overall seed, so they don’t matter). In the NFC West, the Los Angeles Rams have already locked up a division title, while the NFC South champion will be decided in Week 17 and will be either the New Orleans Saints or the Carolina Panthers.

Here, per the NFL rulebook, is the tiebreaker scenarios between division champions:

TO BREAK A TIE FOR THE WILD-CARD TEAM OR AMONG DIVISION WINNERS:

If it is necessary to break ties to determine the two Wild-Card clubs from each conference, the following steps will be taken.

  1. If the tied clubs are from the same division, apply division tie breaker.
  2. If the tied clubs are from different divisions, apply the following steps.

Two Clubs:

  1. Head-to-head, if applicable.
  2. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the conference.
  3. Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games, minimum of four.
  4. Strength of victory.
  5. Strength of schedule.
  6. Best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed.
  7. Best combined ranking among all teams in points scored and points allowed.
  8. Best net points in conference games.
  9. Best net points in all games.
  10. Best net touchdowns in all games.
  11. Coin toss.

Three or More Clubs:

(Note: If two clubs remain tied after one or more clubs are eliminated during any step, tie-breaker re-starts at Step One of two-club format. If three clubs remain tied after a fourth club is eliminated during any step, tie-breaker re-starts at Step One of three-club format.)

  1. Apply division tie breaker to eliminate all but the highest ranked club in each division prior to proceeding to step 2. The original seeding within a division upon application of the division tie breaker remains the same for all subsequent applications of the procedure that are necessary to identify the two Wild-Card participants.
  2. Head-to-head sweep. (Applicable only if one club has defeated each of the others or if one club has lost to each of the others.)
  3. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the conference.
  4. Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games, minimum of four.
  5. Strength of victory.
  6. Strength of schedule.
  7. Best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed.
  8. Best combined ranking among all teams in points scored and points allowed.
  9. Best net points in conference games.
  10. Best net points in all games.
  11. Best net touchdowns in all games.
  12. Coin toss

We all know that the primary scenario involves the Vikings beating Chicago on Sunday afternoon. That would move their record to 13-3 and give them the #2 seed since no one could match that record. But, let’s take a look at all the other permutations of the games that matter to Minnesota if the (almost) unthinkable should happen and they lose to Chicago. Those games are Carolina at Atlanta, New Orleans at Tampa Bay, and San Francisco at Los Angeles.

So, let’s go through all of the potential scenarios and explain why they break down the way they do.

Scenario #1) Minnesota loses, Los Angeles loses, New Orleans loses, Carolina loses

In this scenario, Minnesota falls to 12-4, while the other three teams fall to 11-5. Again, Minnesota becomes the #2 seed by having the best record.

Seedings: Minnesota #2, Los Angeles #3, New Orleans #4, Carolina #5

Scenario #2) Minnesota loses, Los Angeles wins, New Orleans loses, Carolina loses

Here, both Minnesota and Los Angeles are 12-4, while New Orleans and Carolina are both 11-5. Because the Vikings beat the Rams head-to-head, they’re the #2 seed.

Seedings: Minnesota #2, Los Angeles #3, New Orleans #4, Carolina #5

Scenario #3) Minnesota loses, Los Angeles loses, New Orleans wins, Carolina loses

This is very similar to Scenario #2, only with Minnesota and New Orleans being 12-4 and Los Angeles and Carolina being 11-5. Because of a head-to-head win, Minnesota stays at #2.

Seedings: Minnesota #2, New Orleans #3, Los Angeles #4, Carolina #5

Scenario #4) Minnesota loses, Los Angeles wins, New Orleans wins, Carolina loses

In this scenario, we see Minnesota, Los Angeles, and New Orleans all at 12-4. Because the Vikings have beaten both New Orleans and Los Angeles head-to-head, they would get the #2 seed, with Los Angeles checking in at #3 because of their head-to-head win over New Orleans.

Seedings: Minnesota #2, Los Angeles #3, New Orleans #4, Carolina #5

Scenario #5) Minnesota loses, Los Angeles loses, New Orleans wins, Carolina wins

In this scenario, the Vikings, Saints, and Panthers all finish 12-4. Again, the Vikings can only be in a tie with division winners. Because of this, the tie to determine the NFC South winner would have to be determined first. Because New Orleans swept Carolina head-to-head, they would win the NFC South. From there, we would go back to what we saw in Scenario #3.

Seedings: Minnesota #2, New Orleans #3, Los Angeles #4, Carolina #5

Scenario #6) Minnesota loses, Los Angeles wins, New Orleans loses, Carolina wins

In this scenario, we have Minnesota, Los Angeles, and Carolina all at 12-4, with Carolina winning the NFC South. As there isn’t a triangulation between these three teams (as there was between Minnesota, New Orleans, and Los Angeles), we have to move on to Conference record. In this scenario, the Vikings’ record against the NFC with a loss to Chicago would be 9-3, while both Los Angeles and Carolina would be 8-4 if both won their games. That would give the Vikings the #2 seed once again. The #3 and #4 in this scenario are what was spit out by the ESPN playoff machine.

Seedings: Minnesota #2, Los Angeles #3, Carolina #4, New Orleans #5

Scenario #7) Minnesota loses, Los Angeles wins, New Orleans wins, Carolina wins

Here, we have all four teams ending up with 12-4 records. Again, the tie for the NFC South would have to be broken first, and it would again go to New Orleans. We would then have a three-way tie between Minnesota, New Orleans, and Los Angeles, and we’d go back to what we saw in Scenario #4 above.

Seedings: Minnesota #2, Los Angeles #3, New Orleans #4, Carolina #5

Scenario #8) Minnesota loses, Los Angeles loses, New Orleans loses, Carolina wins

This is the one nightmare scenario for Minnesota fans. This scenario would put the Vikings and the Panthers both at 12-4 with New Orleans and Los Angeles both at 11-5. Then, because of their head-to-head win, the Panthers would leapfrog the Vikings for the #2 seed in the NFC and have the Vikings hosting the winner of the Atlanta/Seattle scenario on Wild Card Weekend. Again, this is the only scenario in which the Vikings don’t end up with the #2 seed in the NFC playoffs.

Seedings: Carolina #2, Minnesota #3, Los Angeles #4, New Orleans #5

So, if you’re wondering about the hows and the whys of the Vikings’ pursuit of a first-round bye as we go into Week 17, there they are. As we’ve said several times, the Vikings can make things a whole lot easier on themselves and everyone else by knocking off the Bears in the early slate on Sunday. Otherwise, we’ll all have to sweat out the late games to see what happens, as all three of the games that matter in the event of a Vikings’ loss kick off at 3:25 PM Central.

For those of you that would like a more visual (and colorful) representation, here’s a breakdown of all the potential seeding combinations, to include the battle for the #6 spot between Seattle and Atlanta.