The Vikings have two games remaining in the regular season starting with Saturday night’s game at Lambeau Field. Their playoff scenarios range from very easy to very complicated, so this exercise — whereby I will try to help you figure out which teams to root for this weekend in other games — is either a complete waste of time or very helpful.
Either way, let’s sort it out:
*The Vikings control their own destiny in terms of grabbing at least the No. 2 seed (and the first-round bye that goes with it). If they win their final two games, they are assured of no worse than the No. 2 seed, though the only way they could get the No. 1 seed is if the Eagles lose their final two games.
*Just by winning Saturday at Green Bay — where Minnesota is favored by 9 points now that Aaron Rodgers has been placed on injured reserve — the Vikings would have a 99 percent chance of grabbing a first-round bye, per FiveThirtyEight.com. That said, there would still be helpful things in other games that could happen Sunday and Monday. And if the Vikings lose on Saturday? That’s when things get even more intriguing and complicated. Here are the six games to watch outside of Vikings/Packers, which remember is Saturday night and will be done before any of these others begin:
*Buccaneers at Panthers: Win or lose Saturday, the Vikings want the Panthers to lose Sunday. Carolina has the best chance to steal that first-round bye from the Vikings based on a head-to-head win a couple weeks back. The Panthers are 10-4 and trail Minnesota (11-3) by one game. A Vikings win Saturday and a Carolina loss Sunday would clinch a first-round bye for Minnesota. But Carolina is a heavy favorite over Tampa Bay.
*Falcons at Saints: Here’s where it gets complicated. If the Vikings lose Saturday and Carolina wins Sunday, fans probably want the Saints to win this game. That might seem contrary to logic since New Orleans is battling the Vikings for a bye, but the Saints are tied for their division lead with Carolina right now, and both have 10-4 records. If the Saints and Carolina finish tied at the end of the season, New Orleans wins that tiebreaker for the division title. And then if the Vikings and Saints finished with the same record as division winners — say, 12-4 — Minnesota would win that tiebreaker based on a head-to-head win and still get the No. 2 seed. What the Vikings absolutely don’t want is for Carolina to finish 12-4 while no other division winner aside from the Vikings finishes 12-4. That said, if both the Vikings and Carolina lose this weekend, the Vikings want the Saints to also lose because it would improve their chances of getting the No. 2 seed.
Rams at Titans: This is almost an identical scenario to New Orleans. If Carolina wins, the Vikings want the Rams (10-4) to win because that would help them keep pace with the Panthers. If Carolina is able to top the Saints and win its division at 12-4, the Vikings could still be the No. 2 seed if the Rams and Vikings also win their division with 12-4 records. The reason? In a three-team tiebreaker, head-to-head wouldn’t be an issue issue in this case because the Panthers and Rams didn’t play. The tiebreaker used would be conference record, and the Vikings would win that and be the No. 2 seed. The Vikings would also win a three-team tiebreaker if they finish 12-4 atop their division while the Rams and Saints also finish 12-4. But if the Vikings and Carolina both lose, the Vikings would want the Rams to lose.
Essentially, if the Vikings lose on Saturday, they want the Saints and Rams to win if the Panthers win, and they want the Saints and Rams to lose if the Panthers lose. Worst-case scenario is Vikings lose, Panthers win, Saints lose and Rams lose. That would bump the Vikings’ odds of getting a first-round bye down to 67 percent going into the final weekend. Minnesota would then be dependent on Atlanta beating Carolina in the season finale in order to get a bye.
*Raiders at Eagles: This one is simple. If the Vikings win, they want the Eagles to lose in order to keep the shot at the No. 1 seed in play. An Eagles win this weekend — or a Vikings loss — would eliminate that chance.
*Lions at Bengals; Seahawks at Cowboys: Neither of these games have a direct bearing on the Vikings’ seeding since all three are essentially battling for wild card spots (and are all long shots to make the playoffs). If you had a preference, though, you might want the Lions to win, which would damage the chances of both Seattle and Dallas to make a run. Seattle isn’t the team it used to be, but the Seahawks could still be dangerous in the playoffs. Dallas gets running back Ezekiel Elliott back this weekend and could be a tough matchup for someone if they can squeeze into the postseason. Detroit did beat the Vikings at home earlier this year, but I’d take my chances against the Lions in the playoffs before either of those other two teams. Detroit and Seattle wins this weekend would eliminate Dallas and would set up the Lions to have a chance to make the playoffs in Week 17.