The Vikings' 2012 season remained very much alive Sunday when they struck a near-death blow to the Chicago Bears in their quest to unseat the Packers as the NFC North Division champion. What seemed like an improbable scenario at midseason when Chicago was riding high at 7-1, the Vikings crippled the Bears' effort to win the division title and kept themselves in the middle of the playoff hunt.
However, much like last week when the Vikings lost to Green Bay, the Vikings gained precious little ground on just about anyone else but Chicago. However, given that Chicago was in the position of being the top wild card contender, Sunday's win was critical. With New Orleans at 5-8 and all but eliminated, the Vikings' playoff competition has been reduced by one.
The Vikings entered play Sunday in 10th place in the NFC playoff chase for the six tickets to the postseason. Atlanta has already clinched the NFC South and is in the playoffs, despite losing to last-place Carolina Sunday. San Francisco won Sunday to improve to 9-3-1. Despite losing to the Vikings earlier in the year, thanks to a tie with St. Louis, all San Francisco has to do is win one of its remaining three games (at New England, at Seattle and vs. Arizona) to assure themselves a better record than the Vikings. From the Vikings' perspective, in order to have any advantage over the 49ers, the Vikings must win their final three games and San Francisco lose all three of its games, an unlikely scenario.
But, for the other teams in front of the Vikings, the cases are markedly easier to decipher. Here is a quick breakdown of how those teams match up with the Vikings and their quest for the postseason.
Seattle (8-5) – The Seahawks handed out one of the most significant NFL butt-kickings in recent memory with a 58-0 caning of Arizona, which started the season 4-0, including a Week 1 win over Seattle, but has since lost nine straight games. With a head-to-head win over the Vikings, for Minnesota to overtake Seattle, they must finish ahead of the Seahawks in the standings. Given that Seattle is 6-0 at home this year and, after heading to Buffalo (5-8) this week, the Seahawks close out their schedule against San Francisco and St. Louis at home. If the Vikings go 3-0 the rest of the way, they still lose out to Seattle unless the Seahawks lose two of their final three games.
New York (8-5) – The Giants are currently the top dogs in the NFC East, but with road games the next two weeks at Atlanta and at Baltimore, their grip on the division lead is tenuous at best, especially given their 2-3 division record. The Giants could easily become a team involved in the wild card chase. However, with a win over either Atlanta or Philadelphia, the Giants would assure that they would have a better conference record than the Vikings, thanks to being 5-0 against NFC teams outside their division. As a result, if the Vikings win their final three games, New York will have to lose two of their final three for the Vikings to overtake them.
Chicago (8-5) – With the Vikings having negated the head-to-head advantage the Bears had over them and, with two wins over Detroit, the best the Bears can hope for is that the Packers will beat the Vikings. Unlike the other teams in the wild card chase, if the Vikings win their final three games, the Bears have to win their last three as well. Under the 10-6 scenario, the Bears would lose out. Chicago hosts Green Bay Sunday and plays on the road at Arizona and Detroit to close out the season. If the Vikings finish 10-6, for the Bears to make the playoffs, they may have to finish 11-5.
Washington (7-6) – Their win over the Vikings looms large, but, if Robert Griffin III is out of the lineup after injuring his knee Sunday, road games at Cleveland and Philadelphia don't seem as automatic as they did. The good news-bad news scenario is that the Redskins close out the season at home against Dallas. If it comes down to a wild-card scenario with Washington, the Vikings have to finish a game ahead of them to eliminate them from consideration. Considering that 9-7 likely won't get it done for the Vikings, Washington would have to finish 3-0 to take advantage of their edge on the Vikings.
Dallas (7-6) – The Cowboys are the trickiest of the wild card matchups, because they haven't faced the Vikings and have identical conference records. Their current advantage is due to the common opponent equation of the tie-breakers. Of the teams both Dallas and Minnesota have played, the Cowboys have a record of 1-3. The Vikings have a record of 1-4 and the only way to negate that disadvantage is for Dallas to lose to Washington, which beat the Vikings earlier in the year. This is where the slide rules come out to do the math. Suffice it to say, Dallas' fate may be determined at Cowboys Stadium the next two weeks when they host Pittsburgh and New Orleans.
St. Louis (6-6-1) – The Vikings can take care of this one themselves next Sunday. To have any realistic playoff hopes, the Vikings need to beat the Rams Sunday, which would effectively take St. Louis out of the playoffs. However, with road games against Tampa Bay and Seattle, St. Louis could still have a significant hand in determining who's in and who's out in the playoffs.
Tampa Bay (6-7) – Thanks to a loss to the Eagles, the Bucs are no longer a concern given the construct that the Vikings need to be 10-6 to make the playoffs. With a closing schedule that includes games at New Orleans, vs. St. Louis and at Atlanta, they have to win one more game than the Vikings and, if they finish tied, it's likely that neither will make the playoffs.
Prior to Sunday's game, it was clear that a Vikings loss would have essentially ended any hopes of making the postseason, short of life support and prayer. While their task is still daunting, with three games to get it done, it appears much more possible than it did Sunday morning.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.