What is the current state of affairs?
After being as high as 94 percent likely to make the playoffs earlier this season, the Vikings are all the way down to 28 percent after falling to 6-6. If the playoffs started today, the Giants (8-4) and Buccaneers (7-5) would be wild card teams. Washington (6-5-1) is also ahead of the Vikings, while Green Bay (6-6), Arizona (5-6-1), New Orleans (5-7) and Philadelphia (5-7) are all still in the mix.
Basically, the Vikings need to start winning (a lot) and get some help (either a decent amount or a lot, depending on how things play out). The Vikings play at Jacksonville on Sunday, followed by the Colts (home), Packers (away) and Bears (home).
Should I be hoping for a wild card berth or the division title at this point?
Probably the wild card. Detroit is 8-4 and has the tiebreaker edge over the Vikings because of head-to-head wins. If the Lions go at least 2-2 down the stretch, the Vikings cannot win the division. That said, Detroit has some challenging games left (at Giants, at Cowboys, home vs. Green Bay). The game against the Giants a week from Sunday is particularly interesting since the Vikings are chasing one team for the division and the other for the wild card. The result of that game should have an impact on which route to the playoffs is more feasible for the Vikings
Is there a way the Vikings could win their final four games (to go 10-6) and miss the playoffs?
Sure. If Detroit goes at least 2-2 the Vikings can’t catch the Lions in the division. If the Giants (8-4) go at least 3-1 down the stretch, the Vikings cannot catch them. If Tampa (currently 7-5) goes at least 3-1, the best the Vikings can do is tie the Bucs and they would lose that two-team tiebreaker based on conference record. If either of those teams stumble and Washington (6-5-1) goes 4-0 down the stretch, the Vikings cannot catch the Redskins.
Still, winning out obviously gives the Vikings the best chance of making the playoffs.
Do the Vikings have a realistic shot of making it even if they go 3-1 down the stretch to finish 9-7?
Sort of. In this scenario, it would be VERY helpful if one of those three wins was against Green Bay. That would give the Vikings the tiebreaker in any situation that involved Green Bay, the Giants or both (because of head-to-head wins against both).
Here’s a reasonable scenario for a 9-7 Vikings finish that gets them into the playoffs: Let’s say the Giants lose three of their last four (certainly possible given their schedule) to also finish 9-7, Tampa Bay goes 2-2 to finish 9-7, Washington goes 2-2 to finish 8-7-1 and Green Bay goes 2-2 to finish 8-8. And also assume no other team finishes at 9-7 or better (i.e. none of the 5-7 teams or 5-6-1 Arizona runs the table). There would be a three-way tiebreaker for the two wild card spots. Tampa Bay would get the first one because those finishes would give the Bucs a better conference record than the Vikings or Giants. The Vikings would get the second wild card because of the head-to-head win over the Giants.
What the Vikings need to avoid is a two-way tiebreaker with the Bucs because Minnesota will lose that based on conference record (Tampa is 5-3 and would finish no worse than 7-5 in the conference assuming a 9-7 or better finish while the Vikings are 4-6 and will finish no better than 6-6 in conference).
The Vikings also want to avoid a tiebreaker with Washington (head-to-head loss), but that one’s easier because the Redskins had a tie earlier this year and won’t finish with the same record as the Vikings unless Minnesota manages a tie in its final four games.
If I’m scoreboard watching, what are some of the games to pay attention to?
Here are some of the ones to circle based on challenging matchups for teams the Vikings are chasing.
Redskins at Eagles, Sunday
Seahawks at Packers, Sunday
Cowboys at Giants, Sunday
Lions at Giants, Dec. 18
Buccaneers at Cowboys, Dec. 18
Giants at Eagles, Dec. 22
Lions at Cowboys, Dec. 26
Giants at Redskins, Jan. 1
Packers at Lions, Jan. 1