The Minnesota Vikings are doing everything they can to overcome a 2-5 start and put themselves into position to make the playoffs, but they aren't receiving much help from their NFC counterparts. The other top contenders for the NFC playoffs either won or were beat by another conference contender this weekend.
With four games remaining, the Vikings have three of those at home, with their remaining road game at Baltimore (4-8) on Christmas night.
But even if the Vikings would go 3-1 against St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Chicago, would that be good enough to make the playoffs with a 10-6 record? Usually, yes. This year, who knows?
Assuming the current division leaders in the NFC – New York Giants (8-4), Chicago (9-3), Carolina (9-3) and Seattle (10-2) – win their respective divisions, it would leave the Vikings fighting for one of two wild-card spots. The leading candidates for those spots are Tampa Bay (8-4), Atlanta (7-5), Dallas (7-5) and Minnesota (7-5), in that order at this time.
However, the Vikings don't stack up very well against two of those three. If the Vikings end up in a tie-breaker situation with one of those teams, they had better hope it is Dallas, because Tampa Bay and Atlanta both beat Minnesota this season and the first tie-breaker for a wild-card spot among two teams is the head-to-head result.
The second wild-card tie-breaker between two teams is conference record. The Vikings are 6-4 in the NFC with two conference games remaining – Sunday vs. St. Louis and Jan. 1 vs. Chicago. Dallas is 6-3 in the NFC, with conference games at Washington, at Carolina and vs. St. Louis to close out the season.
The third tie-breaker is winning percentage in common games with a minimum of four, and the Vikings and Cowboys each will have played the Giants (twice for Dallas), Detroit (twice for Minnesota), Carolina and St. Louis. The Vikings are currently 3-0 in those games, with two remaining. The Cowboys are 2-1, with two remaining.
Of course, the Cowboys could end up the NFC East division champs, knocking New York into the wild-card race. In that case, the Vikings would have the advantage over New York if their records were the same since Minnesota beat the Giants 24-21 on Nov. 13.
The other realistic possibility in the wild-card race is that Carolina could be knocked from its division lead in the South, but since the Panthers beat the Vikings 38-13 on Oct. 30, Carolina would win that head-to-head tie-breaker.
If there would be a three-way tie for a wild-card spot, things really get complicated with tie-breakers, but the Vikings could easily be eliminated by head-to-head matchups with losses to contenders Tampa Bay, Carolina and Atlanta.
Here is how the top NFC playoff contenders fared this past weekend: Chicago beat Green Bay, 19-7; Carolina beat Atlanta, 24-6; Tampa Bay beat New Orleans, 10-3; and the New York Giants beat Dallas, 17-10.
As far as the Vikings' chances in the NFC North, they are two games behind Chicago and need some help from Green Bay and/or Atlanta to stand a good chance of Minnesota assuming the NFC North title with a win in the season finale. If the Vikings enter that matchup trailing by one game, they would need to beat Chicago on Jan. 1 and likely have Green Bay beat the Bears the preceding week. That would put Chicago's division record at 4-2 and the Vikings' division record at 5-1. The next tie-breaker, winning percentage in common games, still has too many variables to calculate with four games remaining.
The good news for the Vikings is that they play three of their next four games at home, while the Bears travel to Pittsburgh, Green Bay and Minnesota and host Atlanta.
It's not an easy for Minnesota to make the playoffs, but a 3-1 record to close out the season and a little assistance in the conference could put them there – a remote thought when they were 2-5 exactly one month ago before facing Detroit on Nov. 6.
"We were 2-5 and we really weren't playing well. There were distractions off the field and there was a lot of things going on," linebacker Keith Newman said. "When you're 2-5 and there were lofty expectations put on you, you're never going to be where you want to be. But what guys have to remember in this league is that it's a 16-game season and the landscape of the NFL changes on a weekly basis.
"Three or four weeks ago we were left for dead. We may be in a good position right now at 7-5, but if we don't take care of our business with the St. Louis Rams we'll be back in a bad situation at 7-6."
Purple Playoffs Likely Tied to Tie-Breakers
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