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NFC Playoff Picture: Vikings hanging on by a thread right now

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The Vikings enter the stretch run controlling their own destiny, but it’s not for the NFC North title, like many thought.

Minnesota Vikings v New England Patriots
Playoffs? THAT WAY!
Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images

When the Minnesota Vikings took the field Sunday afternoon, a golden opportunity lay before them. The Chicago Bears had been upset by the New York Giants, and a win by the Vikings would have cut the Bears lead in the NFC North to just a half game, with a week 17 matchup on the horizon. Granted, it’s a tall order to beat the New England Patriots in Foxboro, but the opportunity was there.

And it slipped through their hands like they were throwing to Troy WIlliamson. An uninspired 24-10 loss temporarily dropped the Vikings out of the playoff picture completely, but a loss by the Fightin’ Sanchizes On The Potomac to Philadelphia on Sunday night kicked them back in it.

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:

But after the Packers game, their playoff chances got a real big boost, while essentially eliminating Minnesota’s arch rival:

So how did things pan out after an 0-4 day in the NFC North? Well, for the Vikings, in the span of 4 hours or so, Minnesota went from the fifth seed at the start of the Patriots game, to the seventh seed after the loss, back to the sixth seed after the Fightin’ Sanchezes lost to Philadelphia. But all in all, as disappointing as the Patriots loss was, it wasn’t a mortal blow to the Vikings making it to the post season. Let’s go to 538 and take a look:

Although the Vikings chances to make the playoffs dropped three percentage points, their chances to actually win the division went up. Green Bay’s loss to Arizona had a huge ripple effect, as they were not only wiped from the ‘realistic playoff scenarios’ picture, but they also fired long time head coach Mike McCarthy Sunday evening. Detroit has gone full Detroit mode, and with their loss they are full speed ahead towards a top ten draft pick. They’re currently picking somewhere between 7th and 9th based on tiebreakers and coin flips, with plenty of room to move up between now and the end of the season.

So as of right now, the NFC playoff picture has the Rams and the Saints as the top two seeds, which has remained that way since we began looking at this. The Bears are the third seed, with Dallas at four. The two wildcard spots are held by Seattle, this week’s opponent, and the Vikings at sixth. Carolina, Philly, and Washington are all at 6-6 and in the hunt, but with all the quarterback injuries for the Redskins, you have to think they’re going to fade. The Panthers play the Saints twice in their last four games, and face tough matchups with Cleveland (yes, the Browns are no longer terrible) and Atlanta. Philly’s next three games are Dallas, the Rams, and Houston, a really tough draw.

For the Vikings, they have a monumental game Monday Night against Seattle, but then have Miami and Detroit before they finish up with the Bears at home.

So, let’s do a little ‘what if’ for the upcoming games this Sunday, and figure out what our rooting interests should be.

The first game, obviously, is the Vikings-Seahawks game. In a vacuum, a Vikings win increases their playoff chances to 85%, while a loss drops them down to 44%. If the Vikes win and the Rams beat the Bears, the playoff percentage goes up five more points to 90%, but more importantly, the chance to win the NFC North is now an even 50/50 shot. In that scenario, the Rams would also clinch a first round bye.

Let’s go one step further, and add in a couple more games with teams that affect the Vikings run at the playoffs. If Cleveland can beat Carolina, Dallas beats Philadelphia, and the Giants defeat Washington, Minnesota becomes almost a certainty to make the postseason, as their playoff chances go to 93%. So besides the Vikings, go Browns, Dallas, and go Giants.

In that scenario, the Rams and Saints are still the top two seeds, but the Dallas Cowboys would overtake the Bears for the third seed, Chicago drops to four, Minnesota fifth, and Seattle sixth. Flip the Vikings and Seahawks result, but keeping everything else the same, Minnesota would still be in the playoff picture as the sixth seed, would still be over 60% to make the playoffs, but would have a less than 20% shot to win the division.

There are an almost limitless set of what-ifs, and we’ll explore them with each passing week, but for now, this is where it stands:

Beat Seattle.