Saints A Key Team To Watch

The Vikings will have plenty of games to watch on Sunday that impact their playoff chances, but the New Orleans Saints could be key to the Vikings' playoff hopes if they don't win out. We offer the potential threats to Minnesota's playoff hopes if it doesn't win out.

Entering play this week, all Vikings fans know for sure is that if they win their remaining three games, there's no way they don't make the NFC playoffs. But just what needs to happen and can the team have one stumble along the way and still make the post-season?

The answer to that is a resounding "yes."

Here is an overview of what to watch for Sunday, as well as the final two weeks of the regular season.

THE GIANTS FACTOR – The Giants appear solidly entrenched as a wild card at 9-4. They have a two-game lead on the Vikings, but Minnesota owns the head-to-head tie-breaker – meaning if the teams would end up with identical 10-6 records, the Vikings would get the No. 1 wild card seed. The Giants' remaining games are at home vs. Philadelphia, at Buffalo and at home vs. New England. If the Patriots are still undefeated – which looks all but assured with the Jets and Dolphins coming the next two weeks – they would be playing for the perfect season. If the Vikings can keep the pressure on and either the Eagles or Bills can pull out a win over the G-Men, the possibility exists that both teams would enter the final weekend as the two wild cards but not knowing which is No. 5 in the NFC and which is No. 6.

NOT IN THE CARDS – Arizona is currently sitting at 6-7 and can do some damage with a remaining schedule that includes a road game at New Orleans and home games against Atlanta and St. Louis – a pair of 3-10 teams whose season is all but over. The biggest problem the Cardinals face is that their record against the NFC is just 3-6 – somehow they're 3-1 against the AFC. They have virtually no tie-breakers at this point, but would add to their credibility if they run the table and finish 6-6 vs. the NFC. If the Vikings were to beat the Bears and Redskins, they would finish with 7-5 against the NFC and would have the edge on the Cards even if the Vikings lose the final game against Denver and Arizona runs the table.

HAIL TO THE REDSKINS – Washington can have the death blow delivered personally by the Vikings in Week 16, but a victory over Minnesota would give Washington a head-to-head advantage that could vault them into much more serious contention. The biggest problem for Washington is the schedule. Aside from the Vikings, they play the Cowboys and Giants – two teams that have already assured their playoff positions. The odds of the 6-7 Redskins running the table is not impossible, but not probable. One loss to the Vikings and you can stick a fork in them.

WHERE'S THE ROAR? – The Lions are a near afterthought having dropped five straight – the longest current losing streak of any NFC team. They could be eliminated with a road loss to San Diego this week, but if they get past them, the Chiefs in Week 16 and a Packers team that will likely know its fate and resting starters in Week 17 could make their run interesting. But, losing five straight after a 6-2 start and a 4-7 conference mark makes Detroit a long shot at best.

THE SAINTS MARCHING IN? – The New Orleans Saints are the only team that most believe have a legitimate shot at catching the Vikings for the wild card spot. The loser of Sunday's game against Arizona will eliminate that team from playoff consideration. If the Saints get by Arizona, they still have games with the Eagles and Bears – a pair of proud franchises that have fallen on hard times. Both would like nothing more than to dash the playoff dreams of the Saints, so their final three-game run could include three wins or just as likely three losses. The problem with the Saints is that they are 5-4 in the NFC. If they sweep their final three games, they will be 8-4 in the NFC and would have the edge on the Vikings.

If the Vikings go 3-0, there's no keeping them out of the playoffs. But, if they go 2-1, the only team that at this point looks capable of catching them would be the Saints. The other teams in contention have to win all three of their games to have any chance and even then it won't be enough if the Vikings win their two remaining NFC games.

While it may sound confusing – and in some spots it is – the Vikings' control of their own destiny goes beyond just running the table. If they go 2-1 in their final three games, they still likely have about a 75 percent chance of making the postseason. At this point, the only team to be really concerned with is New Orleans. They're about all that is currently standing between the Vikings and the playoffs and, with a one-dimensional offense and a defense that can get thrown on, that looks like a bad combination down the stretch.

Viking Update Top Stories