The Vikings enter Week 15 with a 9-4 record, and currently holding the 6th seed in the NFC postseason tournament. Of course a lot will happen in the remaining three weeks, so let’s take a look at some scenarios of how things could play out between now and the end of December.
Let’s start with a recap of the current teams still contending for a postseason birth, arranged by current seeding, along with their remaining schedule. The top 6 seeds qualify for the postseason.
NFC Playoff Picture
|Team||Week 15||Week 16||Week 17|
|Team||Week 15||Week 16||Week 17|
|1. 49ers (11-2)||Falcons||Rams||at Seahawks|
|2. Packers (10-3)||Bears||at Vikings||at Lions|
|3. Saints (10-3)||Colts||at Titans||at Panthers|
|4. Cowboys (6-7)||Rams||at Eagles||Redskins|
|5. Seahawks (10-3)||at Panthers||Cardinals||49ers|
|6. Vikings (9-4)||at Chargers||Packers||Bears|
|7. Rams (8-5)||at Cowboys||at 49ers||Cardinals|
|8. Bears (7-6)||at Packers||Chiefs||at Vikings|
|9. Eagles (6-7)||at Redskins||Cowboys||at Giants|
If two teams not in the same division have the same win-loss record, this tie-breaker procedure is used to break the tie:
1. Best head-to-head record
2. Best NFC conference record
3. Best record among common opponents (minimum four)
4. Strength of victory (combined winning percentage of opponents beaten)
5. Strength of schedule (combined winning percentage of all opponents)
6. Best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed.
7. Best net points in conference games.
8. Best net points in all games.
9. Best net touchdowns in all games.
10. Coin Toss
Cutting to the chase, here’s what needs to happen for the Vikings to get a first round bye:
1. The Vikings would need to win their remaining three games; AND
2. The Packers would need to lose two of their last three, including to the Vikings; AND
3. The Saints would have to lose one more conference game (@ Carolina week 17) or two of their remaining three games; OR
4. The Seahawks would have to lose two more games; OR
5. The 49ers would have to lose to Atlanta and the Seahawks.
If the Vikings only win two more games, the Packers would have to lose all three games for the Vikings to win the division and have a chance at a first-round bye. AND two of these scenarios would have to happen as well:
- Seahawks lose all three remaining games
- Saints lose to Carolina and one or both of their other games
- 49ers lose all three remaining games
Obviously very remote all those scenarios play out.
If the Packers beat the Vikings, but lost their other two games, and the Vikings won their other two games, the Packers would hold the tie-breaker and win the division, relegating the Vikings to a wild card at best.
The Saints need to lose another conference game for the Vikings to hold the tie-breaker, otherwise the Saints would hold it having a better record among common opponents.
Seahawks hold the head-to-head tie-breaker over the Vikings, so they need to finish with a worse record
Losing to Atlanta and the Seahawks would give the 49ers the same record as the Vikings, and the same conference record. But losing to those particular teams would give the Vikings the better record among common opponents tie-breaker.
The only way for the Vikings to get the #1 seed would be if all five of the above happened.
Alternatively, if both #1 and #2 happened, but none of the others, the Vikings would end with the #3 seed, and face the #6 seed at home, which would most likely be the Packers, but possibly the Seahawks or 49ers, in that order.
If the Vikings don’t win the division, but secure a wild card birth, they would most likely play at Green Bay or Seattle in the wild card round, and on the road throughout the playoffs.
NFC East Scenarios
Looking at the remaining schedules, it seems reasonable for the Eagles to overtake the Cowboys and win the NFC East, although both teams look terrible. That’s unlikely to affect the Vikings much either way, as it would be unlikely for the Vikings to play either of them in the first round of the playoffs, or any round for that matter. Whichever team wins the NFC East will almost certainly occupy the #4 seed, and most likely lose to the #5 seed in the wild card round.
The Rams are the biggest threat to the Vikings not making the playoffs, if the Vikings were to lose one or two more games. If the Vikings lost to the Packers and Bears, and the Rams lost only to the 49ers, I believe the Rams would win the 6th seed based on having a better NFC record. The Rams would have 2 non-NFC losses, and the Vikings would only have one.
If the Vikings lost only one more game, the Rams would have to win out to make the post-season. In that scenario the Rams would have the better record among common opponents.
New Orleans Saints
The Saints have won their division and seemingly a not too bad schedule remaining, but the Titans have been on a tear lately, so playing them on the road week 16 could be a tougher game. The Titans are currently tied with the Texans for the division lead, but don’t hold the tie-breaker, and play the Texans on either side of the Saints game, so they’ll have a lot to play for.
Also, Carolina played the Saints tough on the road week 12, losing narrowly 34-31 - on a game ending field goal. It would seem Carolina doesn’t have much to play for given they’re out of the postseason race, but you never know.
The Colts are hanging by a thread in the postseason race, but all of their losses have been one score games - and most were 3 points or less. So, they could play the Saints tough.
Given that schedule, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Saints lost one more game.
49ers and Seattle
The 49ers have a one-game division lead, but Seattle has a slightly easier schedule. In any case, they face off at Seattle week 17, and that seems likely to decide who gets a first-round bye, and who gets the #5 seed.
The 49ers look stronger with George Kittle back, but the Rams could be trouble week 16. Even the Falcons have been playing better, but I’d be surprised if the 49ers lost to Atlanta. The 49ers lost three key starters in the Saints game though: cornerback Richard Sherman, center Weston Richburg, and defensive lineman Dee Ford.
The Seahawks lost running back Rashaad Penny for the season in their loss to the Rams.
Difficult to say which team winning the NFC West would be more beneficial for the Vikings, should they make the playoffs - much depends on how they fare in their other remaining games.
The Bears are making a late run for a playoff spot, which would require them to win their remaining three games, the Vikings to lose one other game besides the Bears game, and the Rams to lose two of their final three games.
All this is possible, if not probable, particularly given the Bears tough remaining schedule.
From the Vikings standpoint, it would certainly be most helpful if the Bears, still having something to play for, knock off the Packers in Green Bay, before ultimately failing to make the post-season prior to the Vikings game, breaking their morale as they limp into US Bank stadium and an easier win for the Vikings.
No Playoffs Scenarios for Vikings
If the Vikings lose their remaining three games, pretty good chance they miss the playoffs. In fact that would be a near certainty as the Rams would likely win at least one more game.
If the Vikings lose two of their last three, finishing 10-6, also not a great chance to make the playoffs. I’d be surprised if the Rams lost two of their remaining three, which they’d need to do for the Vikings to make the playoffs, along with the Bears losing at least one more.
The Vikings could lose one more game, however, and still have a decent chance to make the playoffs. The Rams could lose to the 49ers, and the Bears lose a game too, which would be enough to give the Vikings the 6th seed.
The Vikings cannot afford to lose a game. Yes, they can lose a game and still make the playoffs, but their postseason road would get a lot longer - with every game played in another playoff team’s home stadium, rather than the comfort and advantage of US Bank stadium, where the Vikings are undefeated.
But with two of their remaining three games at home, and the next one at what is basically a neutral site - Dignity Health Sports Park - where the Chargers fans may or may not outnumber Vikings fans, the Vikings have a decent shot at winning out. They’re favored to win all three games, according to FiveThirtyEight, including 2.5 point favorites on the road against the Chargers.
But making the playoffs at this point is only the first goal. The more important goal is ramping up their performance on the field, and really show that they’re capable of a deep run in the playoffs.
At this point, while the Vikings have the inside track to the last playoff seed, they haven’t shown that they can beat the big boys. They have more of the feel of an early out in the playoff tournament than a deep run.
Winning their last three games would help give them momentum heading into the postseason. But the manner of their wins would also be important. Sneaking out with three close victories, or not playing well but still managing to eek out a victory, isn’t likely to produce the kind of confidence and momentum for winning on the road in the postseason.
But elevating their game through the final stretch, even though two of those games will likely be against non-playoff teams, could give them the air of a team hitting their stride.
Getting Adam Thielen back may help provide the offense with more consistency, and more threats to keep moving the chains and making big plays.
Getting things worked out in the defensive secondary may do the same for the defense.
The coaching staff also needs to up their game, from game plans and adjustments to play-calling and game management. As often as not, the coaching staff has been the weak link in big game losses. They need to step-up to compete with some of the better coached teams in the league in the postseason, and that starts now. They need not reveal all the tricks they have up their sleeve, but they should be preparing them for use in any number of game situations.
Players know when they’re being out-coached, and Vikings players have seen it in the past. This time around, Mike Zimmer and Company need to show they’re up to the task as they attempt to ramp up for the postseason.
How many games will the Vikings win in the last three weeks of the regular season ?
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