Most of us can look at the Vikings’ upcoming schedule over the next five weeks and come to the conclusion that this is a favorable time for the team to make a move — and that if the team is serious about making a playoff push, banking a bunch of wins (probably at least four in the next five games) during this stretch is key.
The five games, in order: Kansas City, at Detroit, at Chicago, St. Louis, at Oakland. Sure, there are three road games in that mix. But going 4-1 over that period would not require an extraordinary effort — just a solid one.
The schedule stiffens considerably in the next four games after that, games against Green Bay, Atlanta, Seattle and Arizona.
What you might be wondering is just how important these next five games are relative to how difficult the next four (and beyond) are for the Vikings. And for that, we have the handy Five Thirty Eight Elo ratings, a complicated formula that is boiled down nicely into things that matter to the average person: percent chance a given team is going to win in a given week and percent chance (based on 20,000 season simulations) of a team making the playoffs.
The Elo rating for the Vikings tells us a lot about the next five weeks and then the next four beyond: reinforcing the opportunity ahead before the storm hits.
Per the ratings, the Vikings have a 60 percent chance of beating the Chiefs this week; the game at Detroit is basically a coin flip (49 percent Vikings, 51 percent Lions); then the Vikings are 56 percent favorites at Chicago, 66 against the Rams and again 56 at Oakland. So the margins are somewhat thin, but the Vikings have a pretty good chance (per the ratings) in the two home games, a better than average shot in two road games and about a 50-50 shot in the other. So yes, 4-1 is within reach; 5-0 is possible; 3-2 wouldn’t be a mathematical disaster, but it would leave the Vikings at 5-4 and would be an opportunity wasted — particularly in the context of what comes next.
The Vikings are given between a 27 and 41 percent chance of winning each of the next four games after that cushy five-game stretch. Again, that doesn’t mean they couldn’t muster, say, a 2-2 mark in that four-game blitz, but the percentages don’t favor them in any of the games. After that, they are favored in two more home games (Chicago and Giants) before being given just a 20 percent shot to win at Green Bay to close out the season.
Given all that, it will be vital for the Vikings to be at least 6-3 going into that rough stretch. That would give them some margin for error whereby going 2-2 would position them nicely while going 1-3 would still leave them at 7-6 going into two winnable home games before the finale at Green Bay.
To be in any position to win the division, I imagine the Vikings will need to run the table in these next five and go 2-2 in their tough stretch, including a win over the Packers. If they did that, they’d be 9-4 heading into two winnable home games and then a game at Lambeau that could be for the division.
Anything worse than 4-1 in this stretch — as Matt Vensel and I discussed on the most recent Access Vikings podcast — will make it very tough to reach the postseason, even as a Wild Card. So as much as players preach taking things one game at a time — a good strategy to stay in the moment — those of us allowed to look ahead can see just how important the cumulative impact of these next five games will be.
The Vikings are sitting on a 29 percent shot at making the playoffs as it stands now. The Elo playoff probability ratings change from week to week, and it’s notable to mention the Vikings started the season at 25 percent. So even just going 2-2 to this point has positioned them more favorably than where they started.