In what has become a strange twist of fate rarely seen in the NFL, the Vikings are going to be eliminated from wild card contention before they are eliminated from the chance of winning a division title.
As things currently stand, nobody is lining up to jump on the Vikings playoff bandwagon at 2-8-1. Why would you? But they are technically alive in the wild card chase. Technically. Let's go to the land of Thanksgiving wishes.
At 8-3, even if Carolina would lose its final five games, the Panthers would still have a wild card advantage over the Vikings. That drops their competition down to one open spot.
At 7-4, the San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals both have a commanding lead over the Vikings. The problem with that is both teams play each other. If one or the other wins, they would be guaranteed eight wins and the Vikings would be eliminated.
Here's where the mathematically eliminated portion comes in.
The only way that neither the 49ers nor Cardinals end up with eight wins is if they tie in Week 17. That means they both have to lose all of their next four games and then tie in the finale for the Vikings to remain alive in contention with the two 7-4 teams in the NFC.
That's where tie-breakers would come into play. In a wild card tie-breaker, teams from the same division are ranked first. With San Francisco having the advantage in the only scenario that works, it would come down to record among common opponents between the Vikings and 49ers (Carolina, Green Bay, Seattle and Washington). The Vikings have played all of those games already and have a 1-3-1 record in them. San Francisco has a 2-2 mark and, even if it loses to Seattle to make the 7-8-1 playoff wild card possible, the 49ers would have the tie-breaker edge – thus mathematically eliminating the Vikings.
Ironically, they have a chance to win the division if they finish 7-8-1.
Detroit could beat Green Bay Thursday and lose their final four games (at Philadelphia, vs. Baltimore, vs. the Giants and at Minnesota) and finish 7-9.
Chicago could lose its next four (at Minnesota, vs. Dallas, at Cleveland and at Philadelphia) and still beat Green Bay in Week 17 to finish 7-9.
Green Bay could split with the Lions and Bears and lose their other three games (vs. Atlanta, at Dallas and vs. Pittsburgh) and finish 6-9-1.
Yes, there are incredibly long odds of all that happening, but the Vikings are still mathematically alive for the playoffs for those looking for some ray of hope, no matter how desperate it may be. However, the only hope is for the NFC North title in a weak division, and the strength of schedule is weak there. Chicago's remaining five opponents are a combined 22-30-2 (.436), Detroit's are 22-31-2 (.418) and Green Bay's are 25-30 (.455).
It just shows how feeble the NFC North has been this year. The irony of it all is that if the Vikings would, by some miracle, win the division, one of the wild card contenders that has already eliminated the Vikings from that portion of the playoffs would have to come to the Metrodome for their playoff meeting.
So you're telling me there's a (really, really small) chance.
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.
Vikings almost (mathematically) out
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