A few weeks back we started taking a look at the playoff chances of the Minnesota Vikings, and the rest of the teams in the NFC North, on a week to week basis. Since we started delving into this, the Vikings have had two big wins (Jets, Lions) a crippling loss at home to New Orleans in the race for a first round bye, and now that we’ve had a head to head division game against Detroit, things are becoming even more clear. If this is the first time you’ve come across this new series, you can get caught up 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. The last two weeks have been a roller coaster for the Vikings and the playoffs. After the Jets game their post season chances shot up to 68%:
But after the home loss to New Orleans, it dropped to pretty much 50-50:
That loss to the Saints made the Lions game almost a ‘must win’ game, and thankfully, they did win. What’s that? Matthew Stafford just got sacked coming off the plane on the Detroit tarmac?
Anyways, let’s go to 538’s playoff model to see where things stand today:
For the first time since we started looking closely at this, two NFC North teams have over a 50% chance to reach the playoffs. Minnesota’s playoff chances jumped from 51% to 58%, but Chicago took the biggest leap, jumping 15% to 55%. And the division is now going to be won by either Chicago or Minnesota, barring epic collapses by both.
There’s a reason the Vikings-Bears game two weeks from now was flexed to Sunday night, and Minnesota has gone from clear-cut division favorite three weeks ago to yet another must win game coming up against Chicago. In Soldier Field, mind you, where the Vikings have done oh so well in recent years. Minnesota is still the favorite to win the division, even though they are currently in second place, and they’ve actually won two of their last three in Chicago, and six of seven overall against the Bears.
But going to Chicago will always give me ‘oh my God how did Chad Hutchinson play so well’ kind of nightmares, and that game always fills me with doubt. Heck, the Bears almost won there last year, had it not been for a game saving interception by Harrison Smith. So yeah, this game against the Bears is huge, as will be the season finale at US Bank Stadium.
On the flip side, though, whatever chances Green Bay and Detroit had to make the playoffs pretty much ended yesterday. The Packers lost their second straight game, this one to New England on Sunday Night, and have now lost three of four and find themselves at 3-4-1 on the year. Detroit was dealt what looks to be a mortal blow with their 24-9 loss to the Vikings. After climbing out of 0-2 and 1-3 holes to get to 3-3, consecutive losses have them at 3-5, and ended most realistic scenarios for Detroit to make the post-season.
Still, it’s not over for either team. Heck, I remember a Vikings team that was at 6-6 in 2012, and needed to win four games in a row to make the playoffs, and they did. Heck, in 2016, the Packers were at 4-6, and ran the table all the way to the NFC Championship game. Nothing is impossible, but neither team did themselves any favors in the last couple weeks.
If we go to the playoff predictions website, we can see where everyone stands in terms of conference seeding. As I mentioned earlier, the Bears are in first place in the division, and are currently the number three seed in the NFC. The Vikings have made their way back into the sixth and final seed, after being out of the playoff picture last week. The Packers are the 10th seed, dropping two spots, and Detroit stayed at the 13th spot, which is no change from last week.
Had Detroit won yesterday’s game and nothing else changed, the sixth seed in the playoffs would be the 4-4 Falcons, with Detroit eighth and the Vikes ninth. Had the Bears somehow lost to the Bills yesterday with no other changes, the Vikings would be leading the division, they would be the fourth seed behind the Saints, Rams, and Redskins, with the Bears taking the sixth seed.
Speaking of losses to Buffalo, that Bills loss is really looming large right now. If the Vikings had won that game in week three...like literally everyone expected them to...Minnesota would be the third seed right now, with Washington, Carolina and Chicago rounding out the NFC playoff picture. The Packers tie as opposed to a win in week two also has the same net effect as the Bills game, as Minnesota would be the third seed in...if Daniel Carlson made his field goal at the end of overtime. Or his one earlier in overtime, or his...never mind, you get the idea.
Minnesota got through one hurdle against the Lions, and pretty much knocked Detroit out. They now enter the bye week with a chance to get Stefon Diggs and Anthony Barr back for the stretch run, which kicks off with their titanic matchup against the Bears in two weeks for the division lead at stake.
It’s getting fun, isn’t it?