For the first time (and not the last), whether they want to admit it or not, the Minnesota Vikings are going to be scoreboard watching. Despite being behind on tie-breakers to the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day, the Vikings still controlled their own destiny. With a win on Thursday, they would have been ahead of Detroit by a game with a head-to-head split and a better division record. With a loss, that all went away.
So what are the Vikings’ chances heading into their final five games? Here’s a breakdown of what they are up against.
In most seasons, it takes 10 wins to get to the postseason. They Vikings have to win four of their final five games to reach that mark. A team might get in with nine wins, but that doesn’t happen very often unless that wins the division.
The Vikings have five games left to play and will likely be a prohibitive underdog to Dallas on Thursday. After that, they play at Jacksonville (2-8), vs. Indianapolis (5-6), at Green Bay (4-6) and vs. Chicago (2-8). With a current conference record of 4-5, the Vikings would have to run the table against the Cowboys, Packers and Bears to finish above .500 in conference play, which still may not be enough to build a tie-breaker edge.
Within the division, the Vikings would need to finish with a record better than Detroit due to the Lions’ head-to-head sweep. The Lions’ closing schedule includes at New Orleans (4-6), vs. Chicago (2-8), at New York Giants (7-3), at Dallas (10-1) and vs. Green Bay (4-6). Realistically, the Lions may only be favored in the Chicago game, so the Vikings’ best chance for the playoffs could be winning the division, where a 9-7 record could have a much better chance than trying to lock down a wild card.
Green Bay is running on fumes at the moment at 4-6, but they have much more divisional control of their own destiny than the Vikings or Detroit. Their final six games include at Philadelphia (5-5), vs. Houston (6-4), vs. Seattle (7-2-1), at Chicago (2-8), vs. Minnesota (6-5) and at Detroit (7-4). With only one team currently with a losing record, Green Bay may have to defy the odds with little to no margin for error the rest of the way.
The wild card scenario could be considerably more dicey. Assuming Dallas is in at 10-1, the teams the Vikings are currently chasing include the Giants and Redskins in front of them and Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, Carolina, New Orleans and Arizona on their tails looking to land a wild card spot for themselves.
What are their odds?
The Giants are 7-3 and close out the regular season at Cleveland (0-11), at Pittsburgh (6-5), vs. Dallas (10-1), vs. Detroit (7-4), at Philadelphia (5-5) and at Washington (6-4-1). With only one opponent below .500, few wins will come easy, but if they go 3-3, they hit the magic number of 10 wins.
The Redskins are a true wild card in that, by virtue of a tie with Cincinnati in October, unless someone else ties, no tie-breakers will come into play. At 6-4-1, they currently sit a half-game in front of the Vikings (with a win against them) and they close out their schedule at Arizona (4-5-1), at Philadelphia (5-5), vs. Carolina (4-6), at Chicago (2-8) and vs. the Giants (7-3). The Giants are the only team above .500, but that tie with the Bengals might mean they have to win four of five or win three and hope that 9-6-1 is enough to get them in the playoffs.
Philadelphia is bad news for the Vikings because, if they finished tied for a wild card spot, their head-to-head win could easily come into play. The Eagles (5-5) close out vs. Green Bay (4-6), at Cincinnati (3-6-1), vs. Washington (6-4-1), at Baltimore (5-5), vs. The Giants (7-3) and vs. Dallas (10-1). While Philly is in last place in their division, four of their final six games are at home and their only road games are against AFC teams that won’t factor into tie-breaker scenarios, which isn’t good for Minnesota.
Tampa Bay (5-5) is a game behind division leader Atlanta, so if they go on a run, Atlanta could work its way back into the wild card chase. The Bucs finish vs. Seattle (7-2-1), at San Diego (4-6), vs. New Orleans (4-6), at Dallas (10-1), at New Orleans (4-6) and vs. Carolina (4-6). With three of their last games against division opponents and Seattle and Dallas thrown in, the Bucs’ odds don’t look good, but they’re 4-3 in the conference so they have potential tie-breaker goodwill banked up.
New Orleans’ offense has the firepower to pull out six wins down the stretch, but its defense could give up enough to go 0-6. They close vs. Los Angeles (4-6), vs. Detroit (7-4), at Tampa Bay (5-5), at Arizona (4-5-1), vs. Tampa Bay (5-5) and at Atlanta (6-4). Playing teams in their same general placement in the standings, they have to go 4-2 just to finish .500.
Carolina is a team capable of running the table despite a 4-6 record. They close at Oakland (8-2), at Seattle (7-2-1), vs. San Diego (4-6), at Washington (6-4-1), vs. Atlanta (6-4) and at Tampa Bay (5-5). With the toughest closing schedule, winning all six seems improbable and they are a team the Vikings hold a tie-breaker advantage against.
Los Angeles (4-6) technically has a chance, but with matchups with New England, Seattle, Atlanta and Arizona on the horizon, things don’t look good.
Had the Vikings won one of their two games against Detroit, we probably wouldn’t be laying out the entire NFC slate of games and teams with playoff potential. The focus would merely be on winning the North, which still may be their best chance of making the playoffs. But, while the odds aren’t insurmountable, things look as bleak for the Vikings’ playoff chances now as they have at any time during the season.
All they can do today is go home after practice and watch like the rest of us as their fate begins to be determined by other teams and not themselves.
- Just days after releasing running back Ronnie Hillman, the Vikings signed former Titans running back Bishop Sankey to the practice squad. Sankey, 24, was a second-round pick out of Tennessee in 2014 and spent two seasons with the Titans before being released. He was on Kansas City’s roster until Tuesday, when he was released. The Vikings had room on their practice squad after promoting DE Stephen Weatherly to the active roster.
- The Vikings also re-signed offensive tackle Sean Hickey to the practice squad after releasing former Gophers safety Cedric Thompson.
- As if Vikings defensive lineman Tom Johnson wasn’t mad enough about being penalized late in the Arizona game for a hit on Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer that was flagged for roughing the passer – the view being he unnecessarily drove Palmer into the turf – he was more upset this week when the Fed Ex man brought him an envelope. Johnson was fined $18,231 for the hit, which may downgrade his holiday gift-giving plans.
- Aretha Franklin’s 4-minute, 35-second marathon version of the National Anthem from Thursday’s Vikings-Lions game continues to be a topic of discussion on social media – some saying was an epic performance by the Queen of Soul and others saying it was a desecration of the song. One can only imagine how social media trolls would have reacted to Franklin’s rendition of the anthem at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, when she forgot the words midstream.