Deep Purple Playoff Analysis

It's not too early to start thinking about playoff scenarios, and with the Vikings on a three-day mental vacation before preparing for a Monday night divisional clash with the Packers, we break down the playoff scenarios for the Purple, who will need some help. If they have to go the wild-card route, there are a couple of NFC teams for Vikings fans to root against.

The Vikings would like to control their own destiny en route to the playoffs, but the cold, hard fact is that after limping their way to a 4-5 record, they will need some assistance from other teams to go along with a strong push in the final seven games.

Even so, the team's stated goals to win the NFC North and get to the Super Bowl are still within reach, as unlikely as that may seem.

"The team still has the belief that we could accomplish our goals," head coach Mike Tice said Monday. "Whether that was because the division was so tight or whether they knew we were making mistakes that we could fix or we hadn't played our best football yet – whatever the reason is, the team kept battling and working hard to get better."

Indeed, the Vikings have won two games in a row for the first time all season and are coming off their first road win of the season – something that will have to continue if they want to make up ground and qualify for the playoffs.

Entrance into the postseason can come one of two ways, winning the division or through a wild-card berth.


In order to win the division, the Vikings will have to make up at least two games on the Chicago Bears, who are 6-3. If the Bears and Vikings finished with the same record, the Vikings would have to beat the Bears in the final game of the season, Jan. 1 at the Metrodome, to have a draw in the first divisional tie-breaker, head-to-head games. Chicago already waxed Minnesota 28-3 at Soldier Field.

But, quite frankly, the Bears have some stout competition in their final four games outside of the division – with Carolina, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh and Atlanta a combined 26-10 to date. Meanwhile, the remaining non-divisional opponents on the Vikings' schedule – Cleveland, St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Baltimore – are a combined 16-20.

The second divisional tie-breaker is division record. The Vikings are currently 2-1 in the division compared to Chicago's 3-0 record.

After tough NFC games hosting Carolina (7-2) and at Tampa Bay (6-3) over the next two weeks, the Bears return to division play by hosting Green Bay on Dec. 4, traveling to Green Bay on Dec. 25 and then going to the Metrodome on Jan. 1. Also on their schedule are brutal games at Pittsburgh (7-2) and hosting Atlanta (6-3), with each of those teams making the playoffs if the season ended today.

The third divisional tie-breaker is the record against common opponents. The Vikings and Bears have twelve common opponents this season – Tampa Bay, Cincinnati, New Orleans, Atlanta, Carolina, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Baltimore, plus their four common divisional games against Detroit and Green Bay – this season. Chicago has yet to play six of those common opponents – Carolina (7-2), Tampa Bay (6-3), Green Bay (2-7), Pittsburgh (7-2), Atlanta (6-3) and Green Bay (2-7) again – but they are 4-2 in those matchups already played. The Vikings are 3-4 in the seven common opponents they have faced, with games still remaining against Green Bay (2-7), Cleveland (3-6), Detroit (4-5), Pittsburgh (7-2) and Baltimore (2-7) in the common opponents category. The only one of the five remaining common opponents for the Vikings that has a winning record is Pittsburgh, and the Vikings get them at the Metrodome on Dec. 18.


If the Vikings don't win the division and need to take the wild-card route to the playoffs, that task will be much harder. They are currently 10th in the NFC standings, with only six teams going to the playoffs. After the four division winners, that leaves two NFC wild-card teams.

If the season were to end now, the top two wild-card teams would be the New York Giants (6-3) and Atlanta (6-3), followed by Tampa Bay (6-3), Washington (5-4), Philadelphia (4-5) and Minnesota (4-5).

Since head-to-head is the first tie-breaker for wild-card teams with the same record, the Vikings might hope that they come up against the Giants in that scenario since they just beat them in the Meadowlands. Atlanta and Tampa Bay both hold wins against the Vikings this year, so Minnesota would lose out in a tie-breaker with those two clubs.

Since the Vikings don't play Philadelphia and Washington this season, those tie-breakers would move to conference record. Washington has a 5-2 record in the NFC, but Philadelphia is currently 1-4. The Vikings are 4-4 in the NFC. Each team below the Vikings in the wild-card chase is at least two games behind them in conference games.

So what does of this mean?

If the Vikings are to win the division, they will have to rely on help from Chicago, which has a brutal schedule in its remaining seven games. If the Purple doesn't come up with the rally to win the division and needs postseason entrance via the wild card, then it would be best served in tie-breakers by having the same record as the Giants or the Eagles. Atlanta and Tampa Bay would win their tie-breakers against the Vikings, and Washington appears to have an easier schedule the next four games – against Oakland (3-6), San Diego (5-4), St. Louis (4-5) and Arizona (2-7) – before finishing out the season with Dallas (6-3), the Giants (6-3) and Philadelphia (4-5).

In short, Vikings fans should be hoping that Atlanta and Tampa Bay start losing consistently if the Vikings can't win the NFC North.

"Everybody still believes in the goals, and we only set two goals," Tice said. "They still believe in the goals and they see that we have played against some good teams. As far as us playing our better football down the stretch I felt coming out of training camp we had some good depth. I think we have had some traumatic injuries, but the depth of our football team is starting to show. I think when other teams sustain some injuries as we progress down the road we'll see what type of depth they have. I feel very good about the depth we have and it is starting to show up."

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