With the different potential scenarios that center around the Minnesota Vikings’ regular season-ending game with the Green Bay Packers is the notion that the loser of the game could potentially be in a better spot than the winner, as preposterous as that may sound.
As things currently stand through 15 games, by virtue of their win over the Vikings at TCF Bank Stadium, the Packers are currently installed as the No. 3 seed at 10-5. The Vikings are at No. 5 as the wild card with a 10-5 record. Seattle has clinched one of the wild card spots in the NFC and, at 9-6, is currently in the sixth spot.
As such, as things stand today, the Packers would host Seattle in the wild card round and the Vikings would travel to play the Redskins.
If anyone would realistically look at those two matchups, the question would be what is the better scenario? Playing at home against the two-time defending conference champion that has spent all season fighting to recover from a 2-4 start or playing the champion of the weakest division in the NFC? Even with a home loss to St. Louis on Sunday, the Seahawks are 7-2 in their last nine games and as hot as any team that isn’t already situated for a first-round bye.
Suffice it to say, if you were picking an opponent to play at home, Seattle might be the last of the NFC candidates you would want. In Green Bay, they’re already postulating that the best thing for the long-term that could happen to the Packers would be to lose to the Vikings and take their chances heading east to play the Redskins and let the Vikings host Seattle.
There are only three possible outcomes for the Vikings. If they win, they will automatically play Seattle at home in the wild card round as the No. 3 seed. Because Green Bay beat Seattle head to head in Week 2, the Packers would finish as the higher wild card seed under any scenario.
If the Vikings lose, it gets a little trickier, but not much. The NFL did more than just flex the Vikings Sunday night. As part of keeping the games as meaningful as possible, the Tampa Bay-Carolina game got flexed to the late afternoon games to coincide with the Seattle-Arizona game.
The thinking was that, given that the Buccaneers-Panthers game was originally slated for the early afternoon games, had Carolina beaten the Buccaneers, by the time Arizona kicked off, it would already know its playoff lot as the No. 2 seed. Winning or losing wouldn’t matter.
By switching the Tampa Bay-Carolina game to the late game, both Carolina and Arizona will be playing simultaneously, forcing both to give their full effort in hopes of forcing the NFC playoffs to run through their home stadium until someone can come into their house and beat them.
No. 1 seeds advance to the Super Bowl about 50 percent of the time, but No. 2 seeds only make it to the big game about 25 percent. Doubling your odds by winning a game is incentive enough for both teams to put out everything they’ve got.
Because Arizona will no longer know its fate prior to game time, the Cardinals are going to have motivation even more than humbling the Seahawks for a second time this season, joining St. Louis as divisional teams that found a way to sweep the divisional big dog. If Seattle loses, a Vikings loss Sunday would take on added importance.
If the Vikings lose Sunday, the two possible outcomes would be to face Green Bay again or to face Washington. In that scenario, if Seattle beats Arizona, the Vikings head back to Lambeau Field and the Washington West goes to play Washington East. If the Cardinals beat Arizona and the Packers beat the Vikings, Minnesota plays the Redskins.
If the Packers lose, there is only one outcome – Green Bay heads to Washington. In Packerland, that may well be the better option because, as beat up as Green Bay is right now, beating the Vikings twice in a row likely isn’t in the cards and beating Washington is something that half their non-division opponents – good, bad and ugly – have been able to do.
While it’s ludicrous to imagine a team sacrificing a division title for a better matchup, if Green Bay loses Sunday, it has the luxury of knowing that its parting gift is a date with the Redskins – the only team that every other NFC playoff team would like to draw in the first round.
For the Vikings, it’s a lot more confusing. But, if they win, they know who they have, too.