Sunday Crucial To Winning North

The Vikings could clinch the NFC North as soon as Sunday, but the game vs. Chicago is as critical as any the Vikings have played since losing the NFC title game back in the 2000 season.

"Playoffs? Playoffs?"

While a print version of that quote can't capture the classic nasal twang of Jim Mora screaming at a reporter about his Colts making the playoffs a few years ago, the media loves talking about tie-breakers and the stat freaks love coming up with arcane possibilities that would require one team to win by 41 points in order to squeeze into the playoffs.

In reality, it's a lot simpler than that. In fact, as of now there are only two tie-breakers that matter and if the second one comes into play against the Vikings -- it's still clear-cut.

This isn't the BCS, where the better team doesn't move on. Here's the lowdown on the Vikings' and Packers' playoff hunt made simple:

* The head-to-head tie breaker is moot -- or as some would say "mute." The Vikes and Packers each won one game against each other, so that is a push.
* The next tie-breaker is division record. The Vikings are 4-1 in the division. Green Bay is 4-2. If the Vikings beat the Bears Sunday, they will clinch all tie-breakers. If they don't, the tie-breaker chart goes deeper, since both teams would be 4-2 vs. the NFC North.
* The third tie-breaker is completely irrelevant. It's called common opponents -- those teams outside the division that the teams played. If the second tie-breaker wouldn't work, neither will this. Thanks to the new balanced schedule, the only games the Vikings and Packers had different were two conference games. The Vikings played the Falcons and Giants, and the Packers played the Eagles and Buccaneers. Both teams went 1-1 in those games, so, if they finish tied, their record against common opponents would have to be the same.
* The next one, which could be critical, is conference record. The Packers are done with the NFC and have a 7-5 record. The Vikings are 7-3 vs. the conference. What that means is that, even if the Vikings lose to Chicago, if they finish the season with the same record as the Packers, as long as they beat Arizona, they would still have the tie-breaker advantage.
* If they remain tied at that point, the next tie-breaker would be strength of victory, and that would be heavily dependant on how the last three games finish up for both teams -- and their opponents, which creates far too many scenarios to go into with three games left.

So, it's really quite simple. If the Vikes beat Chicago Sunday, any combination of one win for the Vikings in their final two games or one loss by Green Bay in its final three games will clinch the division title for the Vikings.

Where things could get interesting is if one of the teams is eligible for a wild card spot, and even that isn't too complicated. Both the Vikings and Packers have wins head to head over Seattle, so it's quite possible if the two teams each get on a roll late, the Vikings and Packers could both make the playoffs.

One last thing to consider: Since beating Green Bay in Week 1, the Vikings have never been in a position where a tie-breaker would come into play. They've been in undisputed first place since Week 2 and nothing has changed since.

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