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Is it too early to start talking playoff picture?

It’s never too early!

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Minnesota Vikings Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Hi kids, and good morning. Last year, around this time, I started tracking the post-season chances of the Minnesota Vikings, looking at playoff odds and the chances of winning the division. It seemed to be (mostly) popular, so I thought I’d revise it again for this year.

Yeah, it’s early, but the NFC looks to be a brutal conference this year. Of the 16 teams, 11 are sitting at .500 or better, to include every team in the NFC North. Currently, there are four teams that are clear front runners for playoff spots, although you can make a case for all 11 teams at .500 or better to be in the playoffs come season’s end. The 49ers are 5-0 and lead the NFC West, but the Seahawks are right behind them at 5-1. The other two 5-1 teams are the North leading Packers and the South leading Saints. Assuming someone wins the NFC East, which current NFL rules state must happen, there’s basically one playoff spot up for grabs, and the Vikings are right in the thick of it.

Like last year, I’m going to use two websites for these posts, 538 NFL predictions, and Playoff Predictors Dot Com, to analyze what happened, and what to expect moving forward. I thought I’d start doing this playoff post early again, for a couple reasons. For one, like we already mentioned, the NFC looks particularly tough this year, and two, the Eagles game was a really, really big win for the Vikings.

Going into last week, the Vikings sat at 3-2, and with two losses in the division were on the outside looking in at both the NFC North title and a wildcard spot. The chances of them making the playoffs was somewhere in the mid 40% range, and a loss to Philadelphia would have dropped their postseason chances down to 35%. So, with that backdrop, let’s look at the NFC North playoff picture, courtesy of 538:

And how big of a deal is 4-2 vs 3-3 in terms of making the playoffs, at least historically in the NFL? Well, 3-3 is literally a 50-50 shot of getting in, gives you a 38% shot of getting in, but if you go 4-2, 62% of the NFL teams made the postseason. So at least from that perspective, things are looking good for the Vikes, at least right now:

But how did the Monday Night Farceball game effect Detroit’s playoff chances? Simply stated, it was near mortal. Had Detroit won...and were it not for two insanely bad calls against them by the Green Bay Referees, they would have...they would be sitting in first place in the NFC North, and the number three seed overall. The loss drops them all the way down to ninth in the NFC playoff picture, behind Chicago and Carolina, who is currently seventh. Ironically, in the ‘Lions won’ scenario the Packers would be sitting in the sixth spot, with the Vikings on the outside looking in at seven. So a Packers win last night actually helped Minnesota in terms of a playoff spot for this moment in time, but hurt them in being able to ultimately catch and pass the Packers in the division standings.

We all know there’s a lot of football left to be played, and anything can, and will, probably happen. Heck, just last year the Vikings seemed to be on track for the playoffs until the very last game, until they weren’t.

Like always, take these playoff posts for what they are right now—a snapshot in time that is a fun way to do a ‘what if’ to this point in the season. Still, I find it fascinating how much one game can turn around the season for a team, either good or bad, and I think it’s a fun exercise to help us ride the week to week roller coaster that is the NFL.

Hope you enjoyed. See you next week.