Thanks to the results of games played Sunday around the NFL, it would appear the Minnesota Vikings’ chances of making the playoff look better as a potential wild card than as the potential division champ.
Unfortunately for the Vikings, Detroit’s win Sunday at New Orleans put them one big giant leap closer to winning the NFC North title. With four games to go, the Lions have a two-game lead over Minnesota with a head-to-head tie-breaker advantage that can’t be overcome at this point. Even if the Vikings win out and finish 10-6, in order to defend their NFC North title, Detroit will have to lose three of its final four games. Anything less than a 4-0 record by the Vikings, the only way they catch and pass the Lions will be to have Detroit lose all four of their games.
That is possible, but not probable. The Lions host the Bears next Sunday before going on the road to face the Giants and Cowboys – two games in which they likely will be underdogs. Then it could come down to Week 17, when Detroit will play host to Green Bay. Had New Orleans been able to protect its home turf, the conversation would be completely different right now.
But, the Saints went marching out like they have much of the season, unable to stop teams defensively and not having enough offensive punch to keep up. As a result, the focus for the Vikings may well have changed to sizing up the teams in the wild card conversation.
Thanks to winning their fourth straight game Sunday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are now the second of the two wild cards currently in place. The New York Giants currently stand as the No. 1 wild card at 8-4 and the Buccaneers are behind them at 7-5. The Vikings are the fourth place wild card entrant at 6-6 – Washington is tucked in between Minnesota and Tampa Bay at 6-5-1.
The good news for the Vikings is that they would hold a tie-breaker edge with the Giants if they were to finish tied with them and the same would go for the 6-6 Packers if Minnesota is to get to the playoffs with the 10-6 scenario that has them running the table in the final four games.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle the Vikings will face in trying to lock down a wild car spot, other than needing to win all their games and get help, is that their losing stretch over the last seven games has largely come against NFC opponents – the tie-breaker when teams haven’t played head to head.
Of their four remaining games, the four teams above the Vikings in the wild card standings can make noise against the NFC. The Giants, Buccaneers, Redskins and Packers all play their remaining four games against NFC teams. The Vikings play just two games against the NFC and, at best, can finish with a .500 record in conference play. Because they didn’t play Tampa Bay this season, the conference record tie-breaker wouldn’t benefit if the Vikings and Bucs both finished 10-6 or 9-7. In either scenario, Tampa Bay would have a better conference record.
Things would have looked a lot more positive for the Vikings had New Orleans won and kept their flickering playoff hopes alive a little longer. But, seeing as that didn’t happen, you can only go with the cards that are on the table and, as they current lay out, the deck appears to be stacked against the Vikings.
If the Vikings can take solace in anything, it’s that, if they control what they control and can pull down wins against Jacksonville, Indianapolis, Green Bay and Chicago, about the only way they don’t make the playoffs is if both the Giants and Buccaneers win three of their final four games.
Those aren’t good odds, but the situation isn’t as dire as they may appear at face value. The biggest component is that the Vikings have to win all their remaining games. If they do, they deserve an invitation to the postseason party and will be coming in with momentum behind them. If they don’t, they don’t belong in the postseason tournament – it’s just that simple.