Sure, we're getting ahead of ourselves, but inquiring fans want to know. Who has the edge between the Vikings and Saints in some of the deeper playoff-positioning tie-breakers?
From the "You're Getting Way Ahead of Yourself" Department comes this: Vikings fans will be rooting for the Patriots on Monday night to knock New Orleans from the ranks of the unbeaten. If they do and the Vikings beat Chicago Sunday, the teams would be tied at 10-1 atop the NFC. While both are considered near locks to have the first-round byes in the NFC playoffs, who would get home field if the two were to run the table and both finish 15-1?
While that might seem absurd (and perhaps is), remember that when the Vikings finished 15-1 in 1998 and secured home field advantage, the "underdog" Atlanta Falcons posted a 14-2 record that season and could have forced a similar scenario that the Vikings and Saints might be facing.
In some non-scientific analysis, it would appear that, even with a loss, the Saints would have a distinct advantage heading down the stretch, simply because the tie-breakers would run deeper than most.
The first tie-breaker is head-to-head. The Vikings and Saints don't play during the regular season this year. Next.
The second tie-breaker is won-loss percentage within the conference. Under the scenario that the only Saints loss would be to New England, both teams would be a perfect 12-0 against the NFC – since the Vikings' only loss was to non-conference opponent Pittsburgh. Next.
This is where it gets dicey. The third tie-breaker is best won-loss percentage in common games. Both teams will play five games against four common opponents – Detroit, St. Louis, Carolina and the New York Giants. The Vikings have three of those games out of the way, having beaten the Lions twice and the Rams. They have still have games at Carolina in Week 15 and at the New York Giants in Week 17. The Saints have four of their games out of the way with just one left at Carolina in Week 17. For the tie to remain, the Panthers will have a big say in things and the potential of two 14-1 teams having to play full out in Week 17 could be a possibility. Next.
If the tie remains, the fourth tie-breaker is strength of victory. Come again? The seldom-used strength-of-victory tie-breaker merely eliminates the teams that beat you and goes by the combined record of the teams you've beaten. Given the premise that the Vikings win and the Saints lose this week, the combined record of the opponents in the Vikings 10 wins would 36-69, while the Saints would be 37-65. If you're wondering why the numbers are different, the records of the opponents reflect the Thanksgiving Day games, where the Packers and Lions counted for four games since the Vikings have already played both twice.
The Saints' lead in this tie-breaker likely won't last. Under the identical 10-1 scenarios, the remaining Vikings schedule is much tougher than that of the Saints. The Vikings play Arizona (7-3), Cincinnati (7-3), Carolina (4-6), Chicago (4-7) and the Giants (6-5) – a combined record of 28-24. The Saints final five are Washington (3-7), Atlanta (5-5), Dallas (8-3), Tampa Bay (1-9) and Carolina (4-6) – a combined record of 21-30. In the end, this could be the tie-breaker that would determine who gets home field advantage.
As you can see from the quality of competition remaining on the schedule, the odds of both teams being 15-1 are pretty long, but how many people would have thought the Vikings and Saints would be a combined 19-1 at this point of the season? Stranger things have happened and, if the teams remain on their collision course, Week 17 could be very interesting and Vikings fans might end up cheering on the Packers to help pad their tie-breaker advantage.
Guard Anthony Herrera missed a second straight practice while recovering from a concussion. There is growing speculation that he won't play Sunday, given the NFL's increasing interest in dealing with the aftereffects of concussions. If he doesn't start, his place in the starting lineup would likely be taken by Artis Hicks.
Fullback Naufahu Tahi, who has been limited due to injury in recent weeks, sat out Thursday's practice with an ankle injury. He was limited in practice Wednesday as well.
Other Vikings who were limited Thursday included Adrian Peterson (ankle), Antoine Winfield (foot) and Bernard Berrian (hamstring). E.J. Henderson (knee) and Benny Sapp (groin) had full participation for a second straight day.
For the Bears, tight end Desmond Clark was held out of practice with a neck injury. Guard Roberto Garza (ankle) returned to practice on a limited basis after missing Wednesday's practice. DT Tommie Harris (knee), safety Kevin Payne (back) and tight end Kellen Davis (ankle) took part in Thursday's practice after being limited somewhat Wednesday.
For those who watched any of the dismal football games on Thursday and figured anyone would be better than the three games offered up, don't expect to see the Vikings playing on Turkey Day next year. The only way they can is if they're assigned the Thursday night game on NFL Network. The way the schedules run, NFL teams already know 14 of their 16 opponents for the 2010 season – six games against the NFC North and four games each against the NFC East and AFC East. The Vikings are scheduled to play Dallas in the Metrodome, taking the Cowboys out of the mix and the Lions will host an AFC team – giving CBS the lucky break of having either the Patriots or Jets come to down to beat up Detroit.
You have to wonder what the NFL was thinking in scheduling Oakland at Dallas. They knew the Lions against anyone would be a train wreck, but had the option of scheduling San Diego against the Cowboys instead of the Raiders. One is the defending division champ. The other is a slug. A Cowboys-Chargers game would have been much more interesting that watching the hapless Raiders stumble and bumble their way through Thursday's game.
Speaking of the Raiders, the team released cornerback John Bowie Wednesday. Don't know who he is? He was the player taken by the Raiders with the fourth-round draft pick received from New England in the Randy Moss trade. While not as colossal a bust as Troy Williamson was for the Vikings as the first-round pick received when Minnesota traded Moss to Oakland, it makes the trade look even more lopsided as the Curse of Randy continues to take a toll.
Former Viking Brian Russell was signed by the Texans Wednesday. Russell, who was recently released by Jacksonville, spent time with the Vikings, Seahawks and Browns before heading the Jacksonville. He was signed because safety Eugene Wilson has been placed on season-ending injured reserve.
The San Diego Chargers are one of the non-Vikings teams being eyed as a candidate to fill the franchise vacancy in Los Angeles, but, despite winning five straight games, the organization had to ask for an extension to sell the remaining 3,500 tickets for their game with Kansas City on Sunday.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.