The morning after each Vikings game, beat writer Ben Goessling dives in for a deeper look at a key aspect of how the Vikings played, and what it means for the team going forward:
Good morning, Vikings fans: If the NFL season were over as of this morning, your team would have the top seed in the NFC and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs for the first time since 1998.
(It doesn’t end today, of course, which is why we’ll permit just a second for you to celebrate before moving on. But things could be much clearer a week from now.)
After the Philadelphia Eagles lost their second game of the season (and first to a NFC opponent), the Vikings vaulted from the second spot to the top perch in the conference, by virtue of a tiebreaker with the Eagles. Both teams are 10-2, and have 8-1 records in the NFC. They’re both undefeated against common opponents (the Bears and Redskins), but the combined winning percentage of the teams the Vikings have defeated is .467, whereas 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 NFC’s two best teams will have four common opponents. Following Week 14, the only game either team has left against one of their four common opponents (again: the Redskins, Bears, Panthers and Rams) comes in Week 17, when the Vikings play host to the Bears. Which means the results of next Sunday’s games could play a pivotal part in establishing a pecking order between the two teams.
At the moment, 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. A win against the Panthers, coupled with an Eagles loss to the Rams, would give the Vikings a 4-0 record against the two teams’ common opponents, dropping 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.
Now let’s say the Vikings lose to the Panthers next week, and the Eagles beat the Rams. They’d 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.
Essentially, the two most important games the Vikings will play the rest of this year, in terms of home-field advantage, are on Sunday against the Panthers and Dec. 31 against the Bears. Vikings fans should also be rooting hard 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.
The Vikings will play at noon on CBS on Sunday — in a game that fiegures to be at the top of the network’s slate of early games — and the Eagles will face the Rams in a nationally-televised late afternoon games.
The stages are getting bigger, and so are the stakes, as the Vikings try to set themselves up to stay at home through the playoffs — which, this season, could include the Super Bowl.