If you told Viking fans a month ago that we would be having this conversation, well, they wouldn’t have listened to a word of it. Now, after three straight wins–victories over each NFC North rival–fans are removing the fingers from their ears.
Before Monday night’s game, FiveThirtyEight gave the Vikings a 21% chance to make the postseason. After the win, Minnesota’s odds jumped to 36%, becoming the second highest in the NFC North. Green Bay’s 97% leads the division, with Chicago’s 28% and Detroit’s 9% rounding it out.
So, how accurate are Minnesota’s new odds?
As of now, the Vikings have the fourth easiest remaining schedule in terms of winning percentage. The next three games for Minnesota are all at home against Dallas, Carolina, and Jacksonville. While Minnesota has rattled off three straight wins after their bye, these three opponents have combined to go 0-12 in the last four weeks.
Clearly, Minnesota will be favored to win each of these games, but they will still need to take each opponent seriously. Dallas has talented receivers and Ezekiel Elliott does, in fact, still exist. Carolina has been frisky in almost every game they’ve played with Teddy Bridgewater under center. And finally, Jacksonville nearly pulled off an upset in Green Bay this past weekend.
The Other Contenders
While the Vikings next three weeks look very winnable, Chicago and the three NFC West teams directly ahead of Minnesota have much more precarious paths. Due to the fact that all Minnesota really must do to move past Chicago is win their own games and then win the head-to-head matchup in week 15, I am going to leave the Bears out of this discussion.
With the other three teams, it might be a case where the three juggernauts beat up on one another and let the Vikings sneak through the cracks. Seattle and Arizona play each other this week while LA plays Tampa Bay.
Then, Arizona goes to Foxborough, and LA plays San Francisco. Seattle gets what should be an easy win against Philly, but the Seattle defense has made other offenses look great in the past.
Finally, while Minnesota is preparing to play the Jaguars, Seattle will be preparing to play a rejuvenated Giants team, and Arizona and LA will be preparing for each other.
After ten weeks, all three teams at 6-3; two games ahead of Minnesota. However, because mathematics exists, someone in this NFC West bunch is bound to fall behind. One of these teams has to lose at least once, and looking at these schedules, it wouldn’t be all that surprising if someone lost twice.
If someone in this race does in fact lose twice, they would sit at 7-5. If Minnesota continues their winning streak, you guessed it, they would sit at 7-5.
Tiebreakers to Watch
Vikings fans should be hoping that it isn’t Seattle that falls behind. The Seahawks own the tiebreaker over Minnesota due to their 27-26 win in the teams’ week five matchup. Luckily, Seattle has a decidedly easier schedule than Arizona and LA, due to three remaining matchups with NFC East teams on their schedule.
Minnesota does not play either LA or Arizona this season, so the tiebreaker system then moves to conference wins. Sadly, this system absolutely favors the NFC West teams as they get to play the NFC (L)East while Minnesota’s schedule includes the NFC South. However, there is still a path for Minnesota to make it. The magic number here is eight.
If Minnesota wins these next three weeks, they will be sitting at 5-3 in conference play. They also close the season with four conference games against Tampa Bay, Chicago, New Orleans, and Detroit. If they win two of these games, they will finish 9-7 overall and 7-5 in conference play. A good record, considering how the season started, but it might not be good enough.
Two wins seem very doable as Minnesota already has wins against Chicago and Detroit. However, they need one more to reach that magic number of eight conference wins.
With Drew Brees’ health being a huge question mark, and Jameis Winston set to start at quarterback for the foreseeable future, that game in New Orleans also feels much more winnable than it would otherwise.
Not to mention, the Vikings just beat the Saints in the Superdome during last year’s playoffs. If they can win this matchup, the Vikings playoff chances become much greater with an eighth conference win.
Looking at the standings, the NFC West team that Vikings fans should be rooting for is LA. The Rams already sit at 6-1 in conference play, and Minnesota seems unlikely to catch them given that advantage.
There are two games in which the state of Minnesota should especially be paying attention to, and they are both between the Rams and Cardinals. The Cardinals sit at 4-2 in conference play, and with LA wins in both matchups, that would leave Arizona four games to get four wins.
Of course, the preferable situation is that the Vikings just win out and finish 11-5 to put any questions or tiebreaker scenarios to bed. Just in case that doesn’t happen, though, Vikings fans should be pulling for the Rams in weeks 13 and 17.