How the NFC North can be won

The Vikings control their own playoff fate if they can win each of their remaining four games. If they can't, things will get a little dicey. We break down the tie-breakers in the division and who holds the advantages along the way.

The simplest thing the Vikings can do in the final month of the season to ensure a division title is win. If they win their four remaining games, they are in the playoffs for the first time in the Brad Childress era.

But even just one loss could change everything with numerous playoffs scenarios remaining with four games still to play on the regular-season schedule.

The Vikings lead the NFC North with a 7-5 record, one game ahead of the Chicago Bears (6-6) and two games ahead of the Green Bay Packers (5-7). The four division winners in the NFC are guaranteed a spot in postseason play, and two wild cards are also selected for the NFC playoffs.

So what does it all mean in terms of the tie-breaking procedures for the division and wild card spots in the playoffs? Here are the tie-breaking procedures from the NFL, along with our comments each step of the way.

TO BREAK A TIE WITHIN THE DIVISION

To break a tie between two teams for the NFC North division, here are the tie-breakers in order:

Between two teams:

1. Head-to-head (best won-lost-tied percentage in games between the clubs). Comments: The Vikings split the season series with both the Bears and the Packers, so the next tie-breaker would be looked at.

2. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the division. The Vikings and Bears are both 3-2 in the division, and the Packers are 3-1. The Packers and Bears play each other on Dec. 22 in a Monday night contest for Chicago's remaining division game, and the Vikings travel to Detroit on Sunday for their last division game. If the Vikings can beat Detroit, they will at least guarantee a tie with Chicago in this category with four division wins. If the Packers would beat the Bears at Soldier Field and the Lions at Lambeau Field in the final game of the season and end up tied with the Vikings in overall record, they would be able to beat the Vikings for the division title with a 5-1 record in the NFC North. However, the Packers still need to make up two game overall on the Vikings to put them in contention to win on this division tie-breaker.

3. Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games. Comments: Since all four of the Bears' and Packers' remaining games are common opponents with the Vikings, it's a little too early to get wrapped up in this category. The Bears still play home games against Jacksonville, New Orleans and Green Bay and then travel to Houston to close out the regular season. The Packers play at home against Houston, then travel to Jacksonville and Chicago before closing out the regular season at home against the Lions. The Vikings have the advantage here over both the Bears and Packers in the common games played so far. The Vikings are 6-4 (they only have two common opponents remaining, including the Lions) in common games, while the Bears and Packers are each 3-5 with four common games each.

4. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the conference. Comments: The Vikings also hold the lead here. They are 5-3 in the conference with all four of their remaining games (Detroit, Arizona, Atlanta and the Giants) in the NFC. The Bears are 5-5 with conference games at Soldier Field against New Orleans and Green Bay remaining. The Packers are 4-6 in the conference with NFC games against the Bears (at Soldier Field) and Lions (at Lambeau Field) remaining.

With four games remaining, the division would likely be determined after four tie-breakers, but here are the remaining categories, in order: strength of victory, strength of schedule, best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed, best combined ranking among all teams in points scored and points allowed, best net points in common games, best net points in all games, best net touchdowns in all games, and finally a coin toss.

Between three teams:

If two clubs remain tied after third or other clubs are eliminated during any step, tie breaker reverts to step 1 of the two-club format. Here are the steps, in order, to break a three-way tie:

1. Head-to-head (best won-lost-tied percentage in games among the clubs). Comments: The Vikings are 2-2 in games against the Bears and Packers. The Packers are 2-1 and the Bears are 1-2, with those two teams to meet on Dec. 22. In order to proceed further down this list, the Bears would have to beat the Packers at Soldier Field on that Monday night.

2. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the division. The Packers hold the current advantage in this category with a 3-1 division record, with games against Detroit and Chicago remaining. If they would win both of those games, the Packers would win this category at 5-1. If the Vikings beat the Lions, the only way for a three-way tie to advance beyond this tie-breaker would be if the Bears beat the Packers, and the Packers beat the Lions.

3. Once again, things get very convoluted at this point, so we'll just list the remaining tie-breakers if the Vikings, Bears and Packers all end up tied for the division lead. They are: best won-lost-tied percentage in common games, best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the conference, strength of victory, strength of schedule, best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed, best combined ranking among all teams in points scored and points allowed, best net points in common games, best net points in all games, best net touchdowns in all games and finally a coin toss.


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