Double Elimination Tournament: The Remainder of Vikings Regular Season

The Minnesota Vikings have tunneled deep into the 2021 season without grasping the NFC playoff picture by the hide of the neck.

Instead, they’re hoping for a prosperous batch of four games to wind down the regular season while a handful of other NFC teams sort of flop. And to the Vikings credit, those other teams will probably flop.

These are the potential floppers, starting with Washington and below:

To be clear, if any of those 6-7 teams run the table, winning all four remaining games, then that team will grab the seventh seed. But the problem is, per conventional logic, none of those teams is good enough to win out.

Therefore, here we are. For the Vikings, the remainder of the regular season is a double-elimination tournament.

Play with the ESPN playoff machine or FiveThirtyEight playoff tool long enough, and you will find the Vikings are a near-lock for the playoffs if they finish the season 3-1. A 4-0 finish for Minnesota virtually guarantees playoff participation – and maybe even the sixth seed, supplanting the San Francisco 49ers.

But based on the way the Eagles, Falcons, Saints, and Washington have performed so far in 2021, the Vikings, with a 3-1 showing the rest of the way, should be good enough to squirt in the playoffs with tiebreakers and such.

Minnesota travels to Chicago for Monday Night Football next week, currently favored holders of a 4.5-point spread. That’s right, oddsmakers actually favor the Vikings in a primetime road game – even at Soldier Field, a forum usually nasty for the Vikings. Should the Vikings lose in Chicago, then they need to win the remaining three games – vs. the Rams, at the Packers, and vs. the Bears again. Every time a Vikings game kicks off starting next week, you can think to yourself, “Alright, if they lose this game, they have to win the rest of them.”

That’s just the way it is for the 2021 Vikings. Too many games have devolved into close affairs – assuredly decided by one score or less – with Minnesota ending up in the loss column too often. Had the Vikings toppled the Lions or Cardinals – or anybody, for that matter – the playoff picture would be markedly more attainable for Mike Zimmer and the gang.

Dec 5, 2021; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer talks to the defense during the fourth quarter against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

But these are the Vikings we’re analyzing here – nothing is elementary, and everything is nail-bitingly complex.

The Vikings playoff hopes will swing wildly with the outcome of Week 15 in Chicago. If they win, they’re a 50% probability to participate in the postseason. A loss sends them searching for crumbs at 11%. The only way to rectify a hypothetical loss in Chicago would be to win the next three contests.

Right now, Minnesota has 33% postseason chances.

Overall, the Vikings playoff aspirations are indeed a relative longshot as of December 13. Yet, the segment of games left is effectively a double-elimination ordeal. They can lose one game and still probably take the seventh seed.

Losing two – or double elimination – is the coffin sealer.

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sally from Minneapolis. His Viking fandom dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).