Let’s take a look.
Vikings Division Prospects
The Vikings are now tied with the Packers for the NFC North division lead, with five games to play. However, the Packers hold the tie-breaker advantage by having the better division record.
The Packers also have a relatively easy schedule, as follows:
- At New York Giants (2-9)
- Washington Redskins (2-9)
- Chicago Bears (4-6)
- At Minnesota Vikings (8-3)
- At Detroit Lions (3-7-1)
This makes the 12/23 matchup at US Bank stadium pivotal for the Vikings division and playoff prospects. It is also essential thst the Vikings keep pace with the Packers otherwise, if they hope to win the division and possibly secure a first-round bye in the postseason. If the Vikings cannot keep pace with the Packers, and best them at US Bank stadium, then the best they can hope for is a wildcard birth in the postseason.
As a reminder, here is the Vikings remaining schedule:
- At Seattle Seahawks (9-2)
- Detroit Lions (3-7-1)
- At Los Angeles Chargers (4-7)
- Green Bay Packers (8-3)
- Chicago Bears (5-6)
Clearly the Seahawks game stands out as the key game in the Vikings quest to keep pace with the Packers, but each game is not without difficulty. Whether the Vikings do so or not leads to two different paths.
As a wildcard, the Vikings hold a 1.5 game lead over the Rams, who play the red-hot Ravens Monday night. The Rams also play the 49ers, Seahawks and Cowboys (and the Cardinals twice), so the prospects of the Rams overtaking the Vikings, short of a total Vikings meltdown, seems remote at best.
A collection of 5-6 teams - 3 games back - would be the next threat to the Vikings.
So, at this point barring a total meltdown, the Vikings look to have at least a wildcard spot pretty well in hand.
As it stands now, the Vikings would travel to Green Bay in the first-round of the playoffs. If the Vikings overtook Seattle in the wildcard seeding, they would currently travel to Dallas.
Division Champion Path
Should the Vikings keep pace with the Packers, and beat them December 23rd, they would win the NFC North and be in contention for a first round bye. I suspect for that to happen, the Vikings would need to finish no worse than 12-4, and perhaps 13-3. Either way, they stand a pretty good chance of securing a first round bye. Here’s why:
- The Cowboys, or whomever wins the NFC East, are currently at least a couple games behind the Vikings and the Vikings hold the tie-breaker against both the Cowboys and the Eagles, so no chance the NFC East winner would be seeded higher than the Vikings.
- The 9-2 Saints, who could secure the NFC South crown as soon as Thanksgiving at Atlanta (who beat them recently in NO) also face the 49ers, Colts, then close with two road games at Tennessee and at Carolina. That means the Saints could finish with the same record as the Vikings if they lose to the 49ers and/or one other team. If that happened, the Vikings would likely hold the tie-breaker of a better conference record. The two teams are currently tied against common opponents. If that was the case, the Vikings would secure a first-round bye.
- The 10-1 49ers have easily the toughest schedule remaining. They’re at Baltimore, at New Orleans, then host Atlanta and the Rams before finishing at Seattle. They could easily lose two or three of those games, which would also potentially give them the same record as the Vikings. If one of those losses was to Seattle, and the Vikings beat Seattle, the Vikings would hold the common opponent tie-breaker.
So, given all that, the Vikings would most likely need to win-out to gain the top seed in the NFC postseason, and would still need some help to get there. They would likely secure a first-round bye in that scenario, unless the Saints won out too, and the 49ers won all their games too, except New Orleans.
If the latter scenario happened, or if the Vikings won the NFC North but didn’t secure a first-round bye, they would host either the Packers or the Seahawks in the first round.
The Vikings are in good position to at least secure a wildcard spot in the postseason. FiveThirtyEight currently pegs their chances at 91%. But to gain a more favorable postseason schedule, and a first-round bye in particular, the Vikings most likely would need to win out.
FiveThirtyEight currently gives the Vikings a 49% chance of winning the division, and a 29% chance of getting a first-round bye. If the Vikings beat Seattle, those chances improve to 62% and 48% respectively. A loss and they decline to 36% and 9%. So, to say the Seattle game is pivotal is no understatement.
The Packers loss to the 49ers last night opened the door for the Vikings to win the division, but once again, the Vikings would need to keep pace with, and beat the Packers to do so. Given the Packers relatively easy remaining schedule, they may need to win-out, or perhaps have only one loss, while also beating the Packers to come away with the NFC North crown.