If the playoffs started this week, the Vikings and Saints would be writing the latest chapter in what's developing into a tremendous rivalry as Minnesota would go on the road as the second NFC wild card.
Entering Week 12, the NFC playoff picture is as follows:
- 49ers (9-1) - NFC West champ
- Saints (8-2) - NFC South champ
- Packers (8-2) - NFC North champ
- Cowboys (6-4) - NFC East champ
- Seahawks (8-2) - 1st wild card
- Vikings (8-3) - 2nd wild card
The only team that appears to be a realistic threat to stealing a wild card spot are the Rams (6-4), who sit two wins behind the Vikings.
Most years, the playoff picture changes a lot over the final six weeks, but that might not be the case this season other than close division races between the 49ers and Seahawks, Cowboys and Eagles, and Packers and Vikings.
Key games in Week 12
- Carolina at New Orleans (8-2)
- Seattle (8-2) at Philadelphia (5-5)
- Dallas (6-4) at New England (9-1)
- Green Bay (8-2) at San Francisco (9-1)
If the Packers win they'll enter Week 13 with a one-game lead in the NFC North, in addition to holding the head-to-head tiebreaker because of their Week 2 win over the Vikings, and a better record against divisional opponents.
If the Packers lose, they'll still own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Vikings, but their records would be identical at 8-3 entering December.
The bad news for the Vikings is that Green Bay's December schedule looks like a cake walk outside of their Week 16 game at U.S. Bank Stadium.
- Week 13: Packers at Giants
- Week 14: Packers vs. Washington
- Week 15: Packers vs. Bears
- Week 16: Packers at Vikings
- Week 17: Packers at Lions
If Green Bay loses at San Fran, they'll still be a favorites to beat the Giants, Washington, Bears and Lions, giving them solid odds to finish with 12+ wins. That puts a ton of pressure on the Vikings to win 4-5 of their remaining games: Seahawks (road), Lions (home), Chargers (road), Packers (home), Bears (home).
According to FiveThirtyEight's playoff probabilities, the Vikings have a 91% chance to make the playoffs but only a 37% chance to win the division. Their division title chances jump to 45% if the 49ers beat the Packers, which could lead to a big-time border battle two days before Christmas.
In reality, the Vikings are most likely to enter the playoffs as a wild card team, meaning they'll be on the road against the the No. 3 or No. 4 seed.
If Minnesota gets the 1st wild card, they'd likely head to Dallas or Philly because the NFC East is weakest and likely destined to claim the No. 4 seed. If the Vikings get the 2nd wild card, the odds favor them hitting the road for a playoff game in Green Bay, New Orleans, Seattle or San Francisco.
Having already beaten Dallas and Philly, the 1st wild card is definitely a preferred playoff position if the Vikings can't win the division.