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Vikings Playoff Chances Improve

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Minnesota Vikings Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn’t a pretty win for the Vikings against Carolina, but it was in fact a win - the first one-point victory for the Vikings in the Mike Zimmer era, believe it or not.

The Vikings win, along with the Arizona Cardinals losing to the Patriots, and the Bears losing to the Packers, combined to improve the Vikings’ playoff chances to 30% according to FiveThirtyEight. Should all the current favorites win next week, which would mean the Vikings win, while Arizona and San Francisco lose, the Vikings odds of making the playoffs would rise to about 40%. They would also hold the 7th seed in the playoffs and control their fate at that point. If they were somehow able to knock off the Buccaneers the following week, their playoff chances would double to around 80%. The Vikings are currently 4.5 point underdogs against the Bucs, who are entering their bye-week.

If the Vikings finish their season as expected, beating the Jaguars, Bears and Lions, but losing to the Bucs and Saints, they’d finish 8-8 but likely would take the 7th seed in the NFC postseason tournament. Here’s why:

Arizona Has Tougher Games

Arizona plays the Rams twice, and also has two more difficult games at the improving Giants, and against the 49ers, who’ve gotten a few guys back from IR and could be tougher to beat down the stretch - as the Rams found out on Sunday. They also play the Eagles, which presumably would be an easier game for them, given how the Eagles season has unfolded.

But losing to the Patriots on Sunday put a pretty significant dent in the Cardinals playoff chances, as has losing 3 of their last 4 games, - along with the Vikings winning 4 of their last five. The Vikings would hold the tie-breaker should Arizona finish with the same record and the Vikings finish as expected.

San Francisco - Down But Not Out

Another team in the hunt that has a chance if they get hot is the 49ers. They have the same record as the Vikings - improving their playoff chances considerably with the win over the Rams. But they still face some challenges against the Bills and Seahawks, and to a lesser extent the Cardinals, Washington, and Dallas. Not helping the 49ers is having to play all their remaining home games in (most likely) Arizona, as Santa Clara county has basically forced them to play (and I believe practice) elsewhere due to new Covid-19 restrictions.

If the 49ers finish more or less as expected, losing to the Bills and Seahawks, but beating the Cardinals, Cowboys, and Washington, they’d finish 8-8 and beat out the Vikings for the last playoff spot if the Vikings finish as expected. But the games against the Cardinals or even Washington are not gimmes for the 49ers, and if they finish 1-1 in those two games the Vikings would beat them for the last playoff spot if they beat only the Jags, Bears and Lions.

Chicago Bears - Arrow Pointing Down

While currently tied with the Vikings at 5-6, the Vikings currently hold the tie-breaker having beat the Bears earlier this month. But Chicago has lost five straight, and basically gave up pretty early against the Packers in prime time Sunday night, after their bye-week. Mitch Trubisky was terrible, and there isn’t much to suggest the Bears will turn things around, despite a relatively easy schedule. They face the Lions, Texans, @Vikings, @Jaguars, and the Packers again week 17. If the Vikings can take care of business week 15, the Bears chances would drop significantly, but it’s not clear the Bears can beat any team remaining on their schedule, with the possible exception of the Jaguars, given their recent performance.

If the Bears win the rest of their games except against the Vikings and Packers, they’d finish 8-8, but the Vikings would get the last playoff spot based on the head-to-head tie-breaker advantage - if the Vikings finish as expected.

Everyone Else - Forget About It

There are a few 4-7 teams that remain in the hunt - Giants, Falcons, Lions, Washington, and the Eagles at 3-6-1. But whoever doesn’t win the NFC East isn’t going to finish better than 7-9, and that isn’t going to be enough to make the playoffs. The Falcons have been playing well of late, but face the Saints, Chiefs, and the Bucs twice over their last five games. Tough to see them making up any ground with that schedule. The Lions, in addition to the Bears and Vikings, also face the Titans, Packers, and Bucs. Good luck.

Battle of Battered Teams

The point here is if the Vikings can battle and win the games they’re supposed to win down the stretch, they’ve got a decent chance to make the playoffs. If they somehow manage to upset the Bucs or Saints, their chances improve massively. But it will come down to which team between the Vikings, Cards, 49ers, and Bears can battle the most and win when they need to. None of those teams appear destined to run the table, and I suspect at least two more losses are likely for each team. So it may come down to the tie-breaker if one or more of those teams finish 8-8.

So What?

Given a 1-5 start, it would be something of an accomplishment for the Vikings to make the playoffs, even if they were to do so at 8-8. They’d most likely have a better record than the NFC East champion, so they wouldn’t even be the worst team in the NFC playoffs either.

But so what if the Vikings make the playoffs? They’ll probably lose their first game to the #2 seed, and they’d just go from having the 13th pick in the draft (currently), to having the maybe the 19th or 20th. Big deal. It’s not like they’re gonna win the Super Bowl.

That may well be, but who knows what could happen.

First off, the Vikings offense is playing well enough to win playoff games, and perhaps the defense - and the defensive secondary in particular - may begin to play better. Cameron Dantzler has returned, and quietly has put together two good games. Maybe things begin to gel a bit more for them down the stretch.

Secondly, where’s the juggernaut in the NFC? The Saints hold the #1 seed, but will Brees return for the playoffs? The Vikings have upset them in the playoffs before, could happen again. The Vikings beat the Packers, came down to the last play against the Seahawks, Tampa has been less than formidable in several games, and who knows how injuries will impact playoff teams between now and then. Or Covid cases. Homefield advantage is non-existent, and that’ll be the case in the playoffs as well. So who knows what could happen.

Third, and this is speculation too, but if the Vikings made the playoffs, would/could they take Danielle Hunter off IR? Would he be ready to play by then? IR rules are changed this year, and I believe Hunter could come off if he felt he was sufficiently recovered from his neck injury. That could impact things as well.

But regardless of all that, the Vikings are also playing for the future, developing young guys, teaching them how to win, how to handle adversity. Getting to the playoffs would certainly do a lot more for the team heading into next year than a quiet exit after a 7-9 or worse finish. There is a confidence that comes from each win, and each good performance a player has. Stacking those builds momentum. Losing takes it away. And so finishing strong can make a difference going forward, even if the Vikings don’t do much in the playoffs this year.

Next year the Vikings will return with a strong offense, and get a couple core players back on defense in Danielle Hunter, Anthony Barr and Michael Pierce. To the extent they can continue to develop guys like DJ Wonnum, Cameron Dantzler, Jeff Gladney, Kris Boyd, maybe even Chris Jones, offensive linemen like Ezra Cleveland, and receivers like Justin Jefferson and others, they’re that much better off. Giving them some wins to build confidence and team chemistry is important in that development. A little playoff experience wouldn’t hurt either.

Poll

Which team will be the 7th seed in the NFC playoff tournament?

This poll is closed

  • 23%
    Arizona Cardinals
    (337 votes)
  • 0%
    Chicago Bears
    (8 votes)
  • 65%
    Minnesota Vikings
    (949 votes)
  • 9%
    San Francisco 49ers
    (131 votes)
  • 1%
    Some Other Team
    (26 votes)
1451 votes total Vote Now