Sunday holds significant seeding scenarios

The Vikings don't play today, but there are plenty of playoff implications at stake with today slate of game. The Sunday action will help sort out the postseason future of many teams in the NFL.

As the Vikings sit and wait for their game Monday night, there is still plenty of interest in what will be going on Sunday. The Vikings have already clinched the NFC North and are guaranteed at least one home game in the playoffs, but the only remaining question is whether it will be in the wild card weekend or in the divisional playoffs.

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.

SUNDAY NOTES

  • The final injury report was released Saturday. Pat Williams was listed as questionable after being limited in all three days of practice with an elbow injury. However, he is expected to play. The only other players on the injury report – Steve Hutchinson (shoulder), Antoine Winfield (foot) and Brian Robison (quadriceps) – are all listed as probable, meaning a virtual certainty to play, and practiced in full Saturday.

  • The Bears' injury report is much more extensive. DE Adewale Ogunleye will miss the game with a leg injury. Both starting safeties – Kevin Payne (ankle) and Al Afalava (knee) – are big question marks, with Payne listed as doubtful and Afalava as questionable. Also questionable is wide receiver Devin Hester, with Chicago newspapers saying he may not play with a calf injury. Backup defensive end Gaines Adams is also questionable with an ankle injury, leaving a lot of cause for concern for the Bears and their fans.

  • The same storm that blasted much of Minnesota over the last three days hit Chicago Saturday, snarling traffic and causing big delays at the local airports. The storm is supposed to be gone by game time Monday, but it could leave some difficulty in its wake.

  • Jared Allen needs just one sack to tie his mark of 14.5 sacks set last year – the seventh highest single-season total in team history. If he gets two sacks, he will move into fifth place all-time, passing Carl Eller – who recorded 15 sacks in both 1969 and 1976.

  • Steve Hutchinson will move into fourth place on the all-time Vikings list for consecutive starts at the guard position Monday night, when he makes his 63rd straight start since joining the team in 2006.

  • Ben Leber will make his 100th career start Monday.

  • With just 32 yards rushing, Adrian Peterson will own three of the top five rushing seasons in franchise history. In his first two seasons, he set a franchise record and has the third-highest total. He would pass Robert Smith (1,266 yards) for fifth place with 32 yards Monday.

  • With 79 yards, Peterson will move into the top five all-time in the NFL for rushing yards in his first three seasons. He currently has 4,336 yards and trails Terrell Davis (4,405) by 69 yards for sixth place and Clinton Portis (4,414) by 68 yards for fifth place.

  • With 46 rushing yards over the final two games, Chester Taylor will move into the top 10 for rushing yards in Vikings franchise history. He currently trails Terry Allen (2,795 yards) for 10th place.

  • The Vikings have thrown just seven interceptions, which is tied for the least of any team in the NFL.

  • The Vikings are 20-6 in their last 26 regular-season games.

  • The Vikings have won three of their last four games on Monday Night Football.


    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.

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