In a perfect world, the Vikings will beat the Packers on Monday night and then win the NFC North in Week 17 by defeating the Bears and the Lions upsetting the Packers. That's a perfect world, but unlikely considering the Lions have gone into the tank after a promising start the season.
Reality suggests that Minnesota is most likely going to enter the playoffs as the No. 6 seed, which would put them on the road against the No. 3 seed in the opening round of the postseason.
The No. 3 seed, if it's not the Vikings, could go to the the Packers, Saints, Seahawks or 49ers. Would the Vikings prefer one more than the others? Let's take a look at each possible opponent (in this hypothetical scenario).
Green Bay is 7-1 at home and this game would be played outdoors at Lambeau Field in January. That could be frigid temps and possibly snow, and a "warm" day might see temps in the upper 20s or low 30s. But just how good is Green Bay?
At 11-3, they look great on paper. But they probably should've lost to the Vikings in Week 2 (21-16 win), and they definitely were saved by bad officiating in Week 6 against Detroit (23-22 win). They also had to fight tooth and nail to defeat the Redskins and Bears at home the past two weeks.
The Packers are ranked middle of the road in nearly every major offensive and defensive category, but where they shine is in the turnover battle, where they are +15. That ranks No. 2 in the NFL behind the Patriots.
New Orleans' defense is top-five against the run and average against the pass, while on offense they are slinging the ball wherever they please with Drew Brees on Michael Thomas. The Superdome is a frightening place to play in the postseason – just ask the 2009 Vikings – regardless of the fact that the Saints are 6-2 at home this season with three other near losses at home.
Another house of horrors for visiting teams, CenturyLink Field presents the 12th Man challenge that already gave the Vikings problems a few weeks back on Monday Night Football.
Seattle owns a top-five offense that can pound the rock with Chris Carson while Russell Wilson makes opposing defenses pay with his arm and legs. Their defense isn't stout, with a bottom-five pass defense leading the way to opponents averaging 24.6 points per game.
Minnesota could score on them for sure, but can Mike Zimmer's defense slow down Wilson at home? The track record with Zimmer's defenses in big road games says they can't.
The top pass defense in the league is led by a fierce pass rush in San Francisco, but the 'Niners have been cracking late in the season. They are coming off a home loss to the Falcons, which followed a 48-46 road win over the Saints. Matt Ryan and Drew Brees combined for 600 yards, seven touchdowns and no interceptions.
San Fran's offense is diverse with numerous weapons for Jimmy Garoppolo, including tight end George Kittle and a trio of running backs in Tevin Coleman Raheem Mostert and Matt Breida. But at the end of the day, the 49ers are 3-3 after starting the season 8-1, so they might be prime for a first-round upset.
Vikings would be fortunate to get the 49ers
No team wants to play at Lambeau in January or at Seattle or New Orleans in any playoff game, but San Francisco is far and away the most appealing for a number of reasons.
- 3-3 in their last six games with defensive letdowns in the last two.
- Jimmy Garoppolo is interception-prone (11 this season).
- No truly frightening receivers like Seattle, Green Bay and New Orleans have.
- Roster loaded with players who haven't experienced the playoffs.
- Weather in San Francisco (Santa Clara, technically) is sure to be decent at worst.
If the Vikings were to draw the 49ers in the first round, they'd set themselves up for a chance in the divisional round at Green Bay or New Orleans (whoever finishes as the No. 1 seed).
Nothing is ideal as the No. 6 seed, but that might be the best path for the Vikings if the No. 6 is in their future.