If the season ended today, the Vikings would be in the playoffs. Hey, great idea. Let’s just end it now!
Ah, it doesn’t work that way. The Vikings, at 6-6-1, have a narrow half-game lead over three slumping 6-7 teams for the final wild card spot.
The Vikings’ Week 2 tie at Green Bay remains a source of frustration for plenty of fans, but it might be enough to make a difference in getting in or staying home. And one thing the tie definitely did was make potential Vikings playoff scenarios pretty easy to figure out.
Only one other NFC team has a tie — Green Bay, of course! — and the Vikings hold the tiebreaker edge with the Packers in the event that they finish with the same record (entirely plausible, as you’ll see in a moment) because the Vikings won the other head-to-head matchup. Unless another team has a tie in the final three weeks, the Vikings won’t have to worry about complicated tiebreakers.
So with the help of FiveThirtyEight’s prediction model, here are some scenarios for the rest of the season as it pertains to making the postseason:
*The site currently gives the Vikings a 57 percent chance of making the playoffs. That’s probably better than Minnesota deserves for its .500 record, but that’s the reality. Seattle, at 8-5, is a near-lock at 99 percent to make the playoffs. But no other team chasing Minnesota has better than an 18 percent chance (Eagles).
But the key component of the site is that it shows you how the percentages increase or decrease based on different outcomes.
*If the Vikings win their last three games against Miami (home), Detroit (road) and Chicago (home), they are guaranteed to make the playoffs at 9-6-1. Disregarding any other Chicago outcome other than losing to Minnesota, the Vikings would have a 9 percent chance of winning the division by winning out. But most likely they would be the Wild Card. They would need to win out and have Chicago also lose to Green Bay and San Francisco to win the NFC North. That would be the only way the Vikings could host a wild card round game, either as the No. 3 or No. 4 seed, depending on what record Dallas (as the likely NFC East winner) ends up with.
If they win out but lose the division, the Vikings would be the first wild card (No. 5 seed) if Seattle loses two of its final three games. If Seattle wins at least two of its final three, the Vikings would be the No. 6 seed. In either case, the Vikings would open on the road — either at Chicago or presumably Dallas. Right now, Chicago has a one-game lead on Dallas. So the most likely scenario IF the Vikings make the playoffs is that they would be at Chicago — a repeat of 2012, when the Vikings won in Week 17 over the Packers, then had to play at division-winning Green Bay to open the postseason. Joe Webb would not be the QB in this scenario.
*If the Vikings go 2-1 in their next three games, they cannot win the division. But they would finish 8-7-1 and — regardless of which teams they beat — have a 78 percent chance of making it as a Wild Card, which almost certainly would be the No. 6 seed and have them on the road against either Chicago or Dallas to start the playoffs.
The Vikings would miss out in this scenario if Seattle wins once more and one of the 6-7 teams — Washington, Philadelphia and Carolina — wins all of its remaining games. But Washington has lost four in a row with a horrid QB situation following a string of injuries. Carolina has lost five in a row and has to play New Orleans twice in the final three weeks. Defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia — which might be without Carson Wentz, who has a fractured vertebra — has to play the Rams and Houston before finishing at Washington. So it’s impossible for both Philadelphia and Washington to go 3-0.
Finishing 8-7-1 would effectively knock Green Bay (5-7-1) out of the hunt, even if the Packers win out. Seattle would need to lose all three of its remaining games, plus none of the 6-7 teams (Washington, Philadelphia and Carolina) could run the table.
*If the Vikings go 1-2 in their next three games to finish 7-8-1, they would have just an 11 percent chance of making the playoffs and would be the No. 6 seed for sure if they backed in. They would need Green Bay to lose one of its next three games, while each of Philadelphia, Washington and Carolina would need to lose at least twice. Since Philly and Washington play each other, that becomes less likely but not impossible.
This scenario would also give the Packers life. If the Vikings, Eagles, Panthers and Washington go 1-2 or worse in their final three games while the Packers win out, Green Bay will make the playoffs. But as it stands right now, Green Bay has just a 3 percent chance of making the playoffs. If the Packers hadn’t lost that home game to the Cardinals, it might be a much different story.
*If the Vikings go 0-3, they cannot make the playoffs (nor would they deserve to).
*Without results from any other contending teams factored, in a win Sunday against the Dolphins would boost the Vikings’ playoff chances to 69 percent from their current 57 percent. A win in their next two games would put them at 91 percent heading into the finale against Chicago. A split of the next two would leave them sitting at 47 percent, almost certainly in need of a win over the Bears (who would have clinched the division already) and perhaps help from someone else to get in.
*As far as individual games go, FiveThirtyEight says the Vikings have a 72 percent chance of winning Sunday over the Dolphins (6.5-point favorites in their system), while at Detroit (51 percent) and home against Chicago (53 percent) are essentially coin flips. Long story short: The Vikings really need to win Sunday.
So I guess this isn’t exactly EASY, but the picture should get very clear thanks to the lack of tiebreakers. And the easiest thing of all is that if the Vikings go 3-0 they’ll be in for sure and if they go 0-3 they’ll be out for sure.