If the NFL regular season ended today, the Vikings would hold the top seed in the NFC and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs for the first time since 1998.
But there is lots of football left.
The two most important games the Vikings will play the rest of this year, in terms of home-field advantage, might be Sunday at the Panthers and Dec. 31 against the Bears.
After the Philadelphia Eagles (10-2, 8-1 NFC) lost for the second time this season — and first to an NFC opponent — Sunday to the Seattle Seahawks, the Vikings (10-2, 8-1) vaulted from the second spot to the top perch in the conference, by virtue of a tiebreaker. For the purposes of this discussion, let’s consider just the Vikings and Eagles, but not the Rams and Saints, both of whom are 9-3, lead their divisions and have lost to the Vikings.
The Vikings and Eagles are both undefeated against common opponents (Bears, Redskins), but the combined winning percentage of the teams the Vikings have defeated is .467, while the Eagles’ strength of victory is just .375. That, for the moment, puts the Vikings ahead of Philadelphia.
But only for the moment — which brings us to why Week 14 is so important.
After the Vikings play the Panthers and the Eagles play the Rams on Sunday, the two teams will have four common opponents (Bears, Redskins, Panthers, Rams). That leaves the Bears at the Vikings in Week 17 as the division leaders’ final common opponent.
The Vikings are 3-0 against their common opponents with the Eagles, while the Eagles are 4-0, having beaten the Redskins twice already, as well as the Bears and Panthers once. That means their games Sunday against the Panthers and Rams are pivotal in the seeding race.
If the Vikings win and the Eagles lose: The Vikings would have a 4-0 record against the two teams’ common opponents and drop the Eagles to 4-1. It would also give Philadelphia two conference losses, with the Vikings still at one and holding onto a sizable edge in strength of victory. At that point, the Vikings would be 11-2, with a one-game lead on the Eagles and everything pointing in their favor.
If the Vikings lose and the Eagles win: The Vikings would be behind Philadelphia both in the conference games tiebreaker and the common opponents tiebreaker (3-1 to 5-0). Even if the Eagles lost another conference game, bringing the Vikings level with them in the first tiebreaker between the two teams, the Vikings couldn’t catch the Eagles in the common opponents tiebreaker.
Vikings fans should also be rooting for an Eagles loss to the Rams, since it’s the last chance for Philadelphia to finish with less than a perfect record in the common opponents tiebreaker.