How the Vikings can get a top-3 seed in the NFC playoffs

The No. 1 is still within reach, but it would take a miracle.
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Kirk Cousins

No matter what happens with the Saints and Colts Monday night, here's what the NFC playoff picture will look like entering the final two weeks of the regular season. 

  1. Seahawks (11-3)
  2. Packers (11-3)
  3. Saints (11-3 or 10-4)
  4. Cowboys (7-7)
  5. 49ers (11-3)
  6. Vikings (10-4)

Two games behind the Vikings are the Los Angeles Rams (8-6), whose drubbing at the hands of the Cowboys on Sunday proved huge for Minnesota's chances of locking up a playoff spot. 

Barring the Vikings losing out and the Rams winning out, the six teams currently in playoff position will undoubtedly be the six to make it in the NFC. But where each team is slotted could change dramatically, with the exception of the No. 4 seed, which will go to the winner of the NFC East (Cowboys or Eagles). 

Remaining games for contenders: 

  • Seahawks: vs. Cardinals, vs. 49ers
  • Packers: at Vikings, at Lions
  • Saints: at Titans, at Panthers
  • 49ers: vs. Rams, at Seahawks
  • Vikings: vs. Packers, vs. Bears

Below are a number of scenarios that could play out, but we're not going to consider teams finish with ties in their record because that becomes way too confusion. Assuming games finish with clear winners and losers, this is what will need to play out. 

Repeat: We're not considering any hypothetical ties in overall record: Example: Packers finishing 11-4-1. It's way too confusing and we'll cross that bridge if it happens. 

How the Vikings win the NFC North to secure a top-3 seed:

This is only possible if the Vikings win out to finish 12-4 and the Packers lose out to finish 11-5. If both teams finish tied, the Packers win the tiebreaker due to a better record against division opponents. 

Vikings need miracle to get the No. 1 seed

The only way this happens if if the Vikings finish 12-4 and no other team in the NFC reaches 12 wins, which would mean the 49ers and Seahawks would have to tie in Week 17. 

The problem is that the 49ers would win a tiebreaker at 12-4 thanks to a better strength of victory, which is the fourth tiebreaker after head-to-head, better winning percentage against common opponents (Redskins, Seahawks, Packers, Falcons), and better winning percentage against conference opponents. 

Both Minnesota and San Francisco would finish 3-2 against common opponents and 9-3 against NFC competition. 

The Vikings can't win tiebreakers over the Seahawks, Saints or Packers. 

How the Vikings get the No. 2 seed

This is possible if the Vikings finish 12-4 and the following happens: 

  • Seahawks lose out to finish 11-5
  • Packers lose out to finish 11-5
  • Saints finish 11-5 or worse
  • 49ers go 1-1 (beat Seattle) to finish 12-4

Vikings cannot win a tiebreaker with Seattle due to head-to-head record. 

Vikings cannot win a tiebreaker with the Saints due to worse winning percentage against common opponents (Seahawks, Cowboys, Bears, Falcons). 

Vikings cannot win a tiebreaker with the Packers. 

Vikings cannot win a tiebreaker with the 49ers due to strength of victory. In this scenario, the Vikings are the No. 2 seed and the 49ers the No. 1. 

How the Vikings get the No. 3 seed

This happens if the Vikings finish 12-4 and the following happens: 

  • Packers lose out to finish 11-5
  • Seahawks or 49ers finish 12-4 or better
  • Saints finish 12-4 or better

Again, the Vikings can't win 12-4 tiebreakers with the Seahawks, 49ers, Saints or Packers. In this scenario, the Seahawks or 49ers and Saints would get the top-two seeds while the Vikings slot in at No. 3 for a first-round home game.

Overall, the simplest way to look at Minnesota's situation is that they absolutely must finish 12-4 and the Packers need to lose or tie the Lions in Week 17 for the Vikings to have any shot at a top-three seed. 

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