The Vikings can clinch a first-round bye with a win Monday and a loss by Philadelphia at home vs. Denver today. The Eagles currently hold an advantage in conference record – they are 9-2 and the Vikings are 8-2. If the Eagles win out, they can finish 12-4, and if the Vikings were to lose one of their final two games and they both finish 12-4, the Eagles would get the bye with the Saints while the Vikings would play the lowest-seeded wild card.
As it currently stands, Green Bay and Dallas are the current wild card teams at 9-5 with the Giants (8-6) being the only other team with a realistic chance of grabbing the second wild card spot. The Packers are at home against Seattle and can clinch a wild card with a win and a loss by either the Giants, who play at home vs. Carolina, or the Cowboys, who play at Washington on Sunday night.
The most interesting race is in the NFC East. The Giants, who play the Vikings in Week 17, swept Dallas in their two games but lost both to the Eagles. Philly and Dallas play in Week 17, which all but eliminates New York from repeating as division champions. If the Cowboys remain one game back after this week, their matchup with the Eagles a week from today would be the NFC East title, with the loser likely locking down a wild card spot.
Arizona is in as the NFC West champ and could finish as high as 11-5. If the Vikings were to lose both of their remaining games and the Cardinals win out, they could move past the Vikings in the seeding process, which could potentially drop Minnesota down as far as the No. 4 seed. The Cardinals finish the season with home games against St. Louis and Green Bay.
Perhaps the most exciting race will be in the AFC wild card chase. The divisions are all but wrapped up. Indianapolis and San Diego have locked down the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds already and the Patriots and Bengals can clinch their divisions with either one win each in the final two weeks, or one loss by Miami or Baltimore. Those are decided. However, the chase for the wild card is truly wild.
Denver and Baltimore lead the wild card chase with 8-6 records, but no less than five teams are hot on their heels at 7-7 – making those of us who have to figure out these scenarios very glad we're covering the Vikings as opposed to those teams at 7-7 in the AFC (Miami, New York, Pittsburgh, Jacksonville and Houston). There was a sixth, but with their loss Friday night to the Chargers, Tennessee has dropped to 7-8 and has been eliminated from playoff contention.
It's unlikely either spot will be locked down Sunday. For Denver to make the playoffs, not only do they have to go across the country into the most hostile football environment at Philadelphia and beat the 10-4 Eagles, they also need the Jaguars, Dolphins, Jets and Steelers all to lose. That's a pretty tall order no matter how you slice it. It's even more complicated for the Ravens. They, too, have to try to win in hostile Pennsylvania territory when they head to Pittsburgh – which, like Denver, has them as an underdog. If they win, they can clinch a playoff spot by one of two scenarios. First, they win, Jacksonville loses and either the Jets or Denver also lose. Second, they win and the Dolphins, Jets and Broncos all lose.
It's hard to believe that in a season where the top teams separated themselves early and the difference between the good teams and the bad teams was painfully obvious, with just two weeks left in the regular season, only three of the 16 games being played will have no playoff implications. For those forced to watch the Bills-Falcons, Raiders-Browns or Lions-49ers and don't have significant fantasy football money at stake, it might be time to take down the holiday decorations. For the rest of us, just about every game will have significance, making for a fun day for Vikings fans who have to wait an extra day for their football team to play.
Sunday won't be a game day for the Vikings, but it will be a season-maker or season-breaker for a lot of teams that are playing today.
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.