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NFC Playoffs: Things are coming more in to focus

A much needed win keeps the Vikings in control of the final spot in the race to the playoffs, but it’s far from decided

Miami Dolphins v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Even after a four game stretch where the Minnesota VIkings lost three games and the offense became so unwatchable they fired their offensive coordinator, they were still solidly in the NFC playoff race, and even had a slim path to win the NFC North. They needed some help, and a few things to break their way to win the division, but it was still a possibility.

Winning the NFC North is no longer possible, but after the Vikes trounced the Miami Dolphins, the they still find themselves with a seat at the postseason table, and in control of their own playoff destiny.

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.

Per the 538 site, this is where the playoff picture stood in the NFC North after the Vikings lost to the Seahawks:

Last week I mentioned that if the Vikes lost to Seattle, there was still a very realistic path to a wildcard, but the rest of the season would be like chewing glass until the last game was in the books and a playoff spot was secured.

Welcome to glass chewing season, thanks to big wins by the Eagles and the Redskins yesterday/last night.

Let’s take a look at where things stand in the North after yesterday’s action:

For the Vikings, it was a good news/bad news kind of day. The good news was, obviously, the blowout win against the Dolphins, and the most important development for them. As we’ve noted, the Vikings control their own destiny and the formula is simple: win out and they’re going to the playoffs as either the fifth or sixth seed. After last week’s game, the sixth seed seemed like the only thing the Vikes had a real chance at, but the other good news was that Seattle lost to San Francisco in overtime, and the Seahawks are now only a half a game ahead of Minnesota for said fifth seed.

It was weird pulling for Green Bay, but their loss to the Bears was twofold: it officially eliminated the Packers from the playoffs, while Chicago clinched the NFC North. The Bears are no longer out of the picture to secure a first round bye, either. At 10-4, they’re safely sitting as the third seed and only one game behind the Rams for the second seed, with a win over them last week to secure a head to head tiebreaker if it comes down to that. The Rams finish up with the Cardinals and 49ers and they’ll be heavy favorites in both, but they’ve looked pretty bad the last two weeks, so a first round bye is still in play for Chicago.

Okay, let’s take a look at the playoff seedings in the NFC right now:

  1. New Orleans 11-2* (First round bye, they play in Carolina tonight)
  2. Los Angeles, 11-3* (First round bye)
  3. Chicago, 10-4*
  4. Dallas, 8-6
  5. Seattle, 8-6
  6. Minnesota, 7-6-1
  7. Philadelphia, 7-7
  8. Washington, 7-7
  9. Carolina, 6-7

*clinched division

Seattle has Kansas City and Arizona at home to close out the regular season, so if the Vikings can take care of business against Detroit and Chicago, who I think will be locked in to the third seed and will treat that last game like a preseason game, the fifth seed is very much in play. Wins by Philly and Washington kept their hopes for a wildcard (and the NFC East title) alive, and kept the pressure on the Vikings and the Seahawks to keep winning. Dallas remains in the driver’s seat to win the NFC East, though, even though they got shutout by Indy yesterday. They finish with Tampa Bay and and at the Giants to close out their regular season, and all they have to do to win the division is win one of their final two games. The Eagles have Houston at home and the Redskins go to Tennessee before those two teams square off in Washington to finish the season. Carolina plays the Saints at home tonight and in New Orleans in two weeks, with a home game against the Falcons sandwiched in between.

So, can the Vikings clinch a playoff spot next week? Yes, depending on how the Monday Night game turns out. Let’s look at the two possibilities.

If Carolina loses to New Orleans (Panthers will essentially be eliminated):

Vikings beat Detroit.

Houston beats Philadelphia.

Tennessee beats Washington.

If Carolina beats New Orleans:

Vikings beat Detroit.

Houston beats Philadelphia.

Tennessee beats Washington.

Atlanta beats Carolina.

The Vikings would clinch at least the sixth seed in those two scenarios. Now let’s do a little ‘what-if’. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, the above scenario pans out (we’ll use the Panthers losing tonight), and the Vikings are officially in the playoffs. If you add a Seattle loss into all of that, Minnesota moves into the fifth seed, and the Seahawks drop to sixth.

Furthermore, let’s say the Saints and Rams end up with the first round byes, like most people expect will happen, and the top four seeds remain unchanged. If Minnesota can get the fifth seed, they’ll travel to Dallas as opposed to going to Chicago if they remained the sixth seed. Between you, me, and the rest of the Internet, I’d much rather face the Cowboys on the road than the Bears in Chicago in January.

But before we can really start talking about playoff opponents, the Vikings need to clinch a playoff spot first, and that begins by beating Detroit.

So go Vikings...and New Orleans, Houston, and Tennessee.