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A week after a bitter loss, the playoff candle burns bright

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The Vikings playoff chances got much, much better Sunday Night.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings
Playoffs are this way. Let’s go!
Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

Last Sunday Night, the Minnesota Vikings had a golden opportunity to take over first place in the NFC North, and barring a complete meltdown down the stretch, they would have essentially clinched a playoff spot.

Yeah, that didn’t work out so well. Instead, they found themselves playing what was essentially a playoff elimination game against Green Bay last night. Like Eric said in his Thursday preview, it wasn’t quite a Loser Leave Town match (great old school wrestling reference, btw), but it was pretty close.

This time, the VIkings stepped up and delivered, and really re-shaped the playoff picture not only for themselves, but also for their most bitter rival. We’ve been looking at the Vikings playoff chances since their week seven win against the Jets, so if you’d like to go back to read all of these posts, you can go here, and from last week’s post you can find the rest.

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 Predictors dot com, which allows 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.

Throughout the last month or so, the Vikings have gone from a high of 68% to make the postseason, right after their win against the Jets, to a low of 51%, after their Sunday Night loss to the Saints. After the bye week, things looked like this for the Vikings and the rest of the NFC North:

After the loss to the Bears, the Vikings playoff chances really took a shot to the chin, dropping down to essentially a 50-50 shot:

So how important was last night’s game? Let’s go to 538 and take a look at not only the Vikings chances at the playoffs, but the rest of the NFC North:

Although the Vikings won and increased their overall playoff chances, the Bears win at Detroit on Thanksgiving Day more or less clinched a playoff spot for them, and just about wrapped up the division. The Packers loss essentially eliminated them from the playoffs, and barring them winning out and getting more help than an old lady crossing the street, they’re done. As for Detroit...

Chris did a playoff seeding post after last night’s game, and the Vikings actually moved up from six to five, and we’ll talk about how in a minute. The Saints and Rams still hold the top two seeds in the NFC, the Bears are the three seed, and the Dallas Cowboys are now the fourth seed. The Washington Redskins tumbled out of first place in the NFC East with their loss to the Cowboys and fell to the sixth seed, and with a loss at home to Seattle, the Panthers fell out of the playoff picture for the time being, and behind Seattle, who is the seventh seed.

So, let’s go to our playoff predictor page and play a little ‘what if’, and we’ll start out with Thanksgiving Day games. If Washington beat Dallas, they’d still be the NFC East leader and would hold the four seed. The Panthers loss to Seattle was devastating for Carolina, as they fell from the fifth seed, ahead of the Vikings, all the way to the eighth seed, behind first runner-up Seattle. That loss bumped the Vikes up to the five seed, and Washington down to six.

A Vikings loss would have been brutal, and about killed Minnesota’s postseason hopes, dropping from the five seed to the ninth. Washington would be at five, Seattle six, Carolina seven, and Green Bay eight. Back to back division losses in this scenario would have been almost impossible to come back from, especially with their upcoming schedule, I would think. On the flip side, had Minnesota beat Chicago last week, coupled with last night’s win, they’d be the number three seed in the NFC right now, with the Bears fifth. Woulda, coulda, shoulda. Ugh.

Had Chicago lost to Detroit and everything else remained the same results-wise to this point, the playoff seeding would be no different than it currently is. However, the Vikings would have a better shot at catching the Bears, as they would only be trailing by half a game. As it is, they’re a game and a half back.

There’s still five games left to play, and the Vikings are still in the hunt to win the NFC North, but before I think that’s a serious possibility, they have to get to the last week of the season within half a game of the Bears. Let’s take a look at the two schedules:

Minnesota (6-4-1):

at New England (8-3)

at Seattle (6-5)

Miami (5-6)

at Detroit (4-7)

Chicago (8-3)

Chicago (8-3):

at New York Giants (3-8)

Los Angeles Rams (10-1)

Green Bay (4-6-1)

at San Francisco (2-9)

at Minnesota (6-4-1)

If the Bears go 2-2 (losses to Green Bay and the Rams), that puts them at 10-5 heading into the final weekend. If the Vikings can somehow manage to go 3-1 (split these next two road games then beat Miami and Detroit), that puts them at 9-5-1, with a chance to win the division at home on the final weekend. Both are possible, but I don’t know that both are realistic. That said, Bears QB Mitchell Trubisky is nursing a sore shoulder, and the Bears almost impossible ability to create turnovers has to come crashing to Earth, while Kirk Cousins just shredded a lot of ‘he can’t win a big game’ narratives and the VIkings defense looks to be back to their 2017 form.

Anything can happen, of course, and week 17 Bears game will run the gamut of:

-Division title on the line for both teams with a loser probably getting a wildcard slot

-Bears and Vikings resting their starters because they have playoffs seeds locked up, depending on what the other NFC teams do

-Bears resting players and Vikings facing a ‘win or go home’ scenario to get a Wildcard slot

-Bears beat the Rams and are in the hunt for a first round bye while the Vikings collapsed and are trying to finish 8-7-1 and get all the moral victories.