At 9-4 with three weeks left in the regular season, the Vikings could still finish anywhere from No. 1 to out of the NFC playoff picture.
If the playoffs started today, the 49ers, Saints, Packers and Cowboys would be division winners, with the Seahawks and Vikings taking the two Wild Card spots. It would set the stage for a Wild Card Weekend showdown New Orleans between the Vikings and Saints.
- 49ers (11-2)
- Packers (10-3)
- Saints (10-3)
- Cowboys (6-7)
- Seahawks (10-3)
- Vikings (9-4)
Close behind in the Wild Card are the Rams (8-5) and Bears (7-6). Even if the Eagles beat the Giants on Monday Night Football, the Cowboys will still be on top fo the NFC East because they own the head-to-head tiebreaker over Philly.
But the No. 4 seed is essentially settled as it'll likely be the Cowboys or Eagles since the NFC East champion is too far back to claim any of the top-three seeds.
The question over the final three weeks is what teams will be slotted in at the Nos. 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6 seeds when the regular season is over. Let's take a look at the key teams to figure out where they're going to finish.
Minnesota Vikings (9-4)
Current: Slotted in as the No. 6 seed, the Vikings finish the season with a road game against the Chargers followed by back-to-back home games against the Packers and Bears.
Reasoning: Not to be a homer, but the Chargers really haven't beaten many good teams this season. In fact, their No. 3 win over the Packers is their only quality victory, so Minnesota will be one of their toughest tests. Then the Vikings get the Packers and Bears at home, where they are undefeated and outscoring opponents by a margin of 166-85.
Green Bay Packers (10-3)
Current: Sitting in the No. 2 seed position, the Packers host the Bears this week followed by a date in Minnesota on Monday Night Football and then a season finale in Detroit.
Reasoning: 11-5 is certainly possible as a worst-case scenario for Green Bay. It could happen if they lose at home to the Bears, who are suddenly playing much better with Mitch Trubisky finally finding some passing rhythm. But it's Green Bay at home in December, so nearly impossible to pick the inconsistent Bears to pull the upset. Minnesota will take care of Green Bay in Week 16, but the Packers close with a win in Detroit.
New Orleans Saints (10-3)
Current: Their shootout loss to the 49ers dropped them to the No. 3 seed, with a finishing schedule featuring a home game against the Colts followed by road contests against the Titans and Panthers.
Reasoning: It's a relatively easy final three weeks for the Saints, but I think they crush the Colts and Panthers but find difficult at Tennessee since the Titans (8-5) are still in the mix in the AFC race. The Titans are 6-1 in their last seven games, although their schedule has been pretty forgiving.
San Francisco 49ers (11-2)
Currently: Sitting atop the NFC playoff race, the 'Niners finish the season with two home games against the Falcons and Rams before closing at Seattle. That's tough.
Reasoning: The 49ers are legit, boasting a dynamic offense and terrific pass defense that will certainly eat Matt Ryan and Atlanta alive this week, and likely do the same to the pass-pro-weak Seahawks in Week 17. Seattle looked like hot garbage against the Rams, who are surging and could take down the Rams in L.A. in Week 16, which I think will happen.
Seattle Seahawks (10-3)
Currently: Sitting in the first Wild Card spot as they look at three final games against the Panthers (road), Cardinals (home) and 49ers (home).
Reasoning: Seattle is going to run through the hapless defense of the Panthers, then take care of a bad Arizona team to get to 12-3 entering Week 17. But I've already predicted San Fran to win in Seattle in Week 17, so that remains the plan.
Vikings: at Chargers, vs. Packers, vs. Bears
Packers: vs. Bears, at Vikings, at Lions --- W, L, W ---
49ers: vs. Falcons, vs. Rams, at Seahawks
Seahawks: at Panthers, vs. Cardinals, vs. 49ers
Saints: vs. Colts, at Titans, at Panthers
If all goes accordingly, this is the NFC playoff picture
- 49ers (13-3)
- Packers (12-4)
- Saints (12-4)
- Cowboys or Eagles
- Seahawks (12-4)
- Vikings (12-4)
Minnesota would lose the tiebreaker to the Packers due to winning one fewer division game, and they'd lose the tiebreaker to Seattle due to a head-to-head loss.
This scenario would also feature a tiebreaker between the Packers and Saints for the second and third seeds. Both teams would be 12-4 overall and 9-3 in the conference, so the third tiebreaker would go to the team with the better record against common opponents.
Those opponents are Dallas, Chicago and San Francisco. Green Bay would be 3-1 in those games, compared to the Saints being 2-1. That's a better won-loss percentage for the Packers, so they'd get the No. 2 seed.
Bottom line: The Vikings are almost surely locked in as the No. 6 seed unless they finish 12-4 and both the Packers and Seahawks finish 11-5. If that were to happen, the Vikings would vault to No. 3 or possibly even No. 2.