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The Vikings didn’t play, but their playoff chances improved

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Wait, how did that happen?

Detroit Lions v Minnesota Vikings

Close to the halfway point of the season, I started doing a week to week update of the Vikings playoff chances. Along the way, they’ve had a couple of big wins, a tough loss, and the bye week. And even though the Bears won a big game against Detroit, Minnesota’s playoff chances actually improved this past weekend. How can that be? Well, if you want to go back to the beginning, you can get caught up here, here, and here.

If you don’t want to take the time to get caught up, a quick primer, if I may: I’ve been using two sites to help with playoff percentages and seeding, the 538 playoff predictor, and Playoff Predictions dot com, which allow you to waste hours of your day coming up with ‘if-then’ win-loss scenarios to see who is in and who is out of the playoffs. Since we started this, the Vikings chances for a playoff spot haven’t dipped below 50%, but they’ve swung back and forth. This is where they stood after the win against the Jets:

After Minnesota lost to the Saints, things were literally 50-50:

But after a big bounce back win against their divisional rival Detroit, things looked a lot better:

With the Vikings sitting out this past week due to their scheduled bye, their playoff chances improved, but their chances to win the division took a bit of a dip. Wait, how? Well, let’s take a look. First, we go to the 538 playoff model to see where the Vikings, and the rest of the NFC North, now stand:

For the first time since we began tracking the post-season chances for the NFC North teams, Chicago now has a greater chance to not only make the playoffs, but to also win the division, thanks to their win against Detroit. But with two games remaining against each other, both the Bears and the Vikings control their own destiny in terms of winning the division, and to say Sunday night’s game at Soldier Field is a big game is an understatement. Green Bay doubled their chances to make the playoffs with a win at home against Miami, but still are barely more than a one in five shot. And with Detroit losing to the Bears they’re pretty much done sitting at 3-6.

So why did Minnesota’s chances to make the playoffs improve, even though the Bears won and the Vikes were on a bye? Seattle losing to the Rams and the Falcons losing to the Browns (wait what) really helped out the Vikings. Currently, Minnesota is the number six seed, while Green Bay is seventh at 4-4-1 and the only other team in the NFC at .500 or better. Had Seattle and Atlanta won, the Vikings would still be the sixth seed, but the Falcons and Seahawks would be right behind them at 5-4, with Green Bay moving down to the ninth seed. However, by dropping to 4-5, Minnesota’s playoff chances ticked up a bit because of the dearth of teams with a winning record behind them.

Most of us thought the Lions had a puncher’s chance in Chicago, and had they been able to upset the Bears, Minnesota would have really been sitting a lot prettier in terms of winning the division. They would be the NFC North leader, the Bears would be the sixth seed, and although Detroit would still be a longshot to make the playoffs, they would be one of five teams at 4-5 and within shouting distance of the sixth seed. As it is, they’re the 13th seed in the NFC and are closer to a top ten pick (currently seventh in the draft order) then they are the playoffs. But we’re sitting up straight and respecting the process, anyway.

Lastly, let’s play a little ‘what if’ regarding some earlier games, thanks to the playoff projections site. And once again, let’s go back to week two, and the 29-29 tie Minnesota had with Green Bay. Had the Vikings pulled out a win, they are currently the number four seed and division leader, with Chicago securing a wildcard spot as the number five seed. But if Green Bay had won that game, the Bears are the number three seed, Green Bay is the number six and ekes in as a wildcard, and the Vikings are on the outside looking in.

Let’s go back even further, to week one, and let’s say the Aaron Rodgers comeback falls short and the Bears hold on. In that case, whether Green Bay won, tied, or lost to the Vikings the following week, they would be buried in the NFC at 4-5, 3-5-1 or 3-6, and the Bears would have a hammerlock on the number three seed. As the season gets later, that game looms larger and larger in terms of division standings, maybe even more than the week 2 tie between the Vikes and the Packers.

With each passing week, the stakes get higher and the games become more important. Besides Minnesota’s game against Chicago, the Packers and the Seahawks are trying to keep their playoff chances alive on Thursday. Both teams already have less than a 30% chance to make the playoffs (Seattle sits at 29%), and a loss at home to Green Bay would essentially eliminate them at 4-6. At 23%, Green Bay would just as likely be finished with a loss, as a 4-5-1 record would drop them to the ninth seed in the NFC with some tough games left.

Skol VIkings, let’s bury those Soldier Field demons once and for all.