Don't look now, but the Los Angeles Rams are suddenly one of the hottest teams in the NFL, and they're breathing down the neck of the Minnesota Vikings.
If the playoffs started today, Minnesota would get in as the second Wild Card. But things get dicy if the Vikings have any hiccups coupled with Rams victories over the final three weeks.
If Minnesota simply finishes with a better record than the Rams, they're virtually a lock to make the playoffs. But in the even that the Vikings and Rams finish tied, the tiebreaker scenarios don't bode well for Minnesota.
Rams could jump Vikings this week
If the Vikings lose to the Chargers and the Rams beat the Cowboys this week, the Rams would take over the No. 6 seed and push the Vikings out of the playoff picture. Both teams would be 9-5 overall, but the Rams would win the tiebreaker based on better winning percentage in common games.
That tiebreaker could prove critical even if the Rams lose this week.
Common opponents between the Vikings and Rams include the Seahawks, Falcons, Bears and Cowboys. Minnesota is 2-2 in those games with a Week 17 matchup with the Bears pending. The Rams are 3-1 in those games with their Week 15 matchup in Dallas pending.
That's what makes the Rams-Cowboys outcome potentially critical to Minnesota's playoff chances. A loss would make the Rams 3-2 in common games, and Minnesota would also be 3-2 with a win over Chicago in Week 17.
Here’s each team’s remaining schedule:
- Rams: at DAL (6-7), at 49ers (11-2), vs. Cardinals (3-9-1)
- Vikings: at LAC (5-8), vs. Packers (10-3), vs. Bears (7-6)
If they finish tied at 11-5
The Rams have to win out in this scenario while the Vikings finish 2-1. In this scenario, it doesn't matter which game the Vikings lose, because at 11-5 the Rams would own the common opponent tiebreaker mentioned above.
If they finish tied at 10-6
This would require a 2-1 finish for the Rams while the Vikings lose two of the next three.
If the Rams go 10-6, they still win the tiebreaker by winning percentage against common opponents, winning percentage against NFC teams or by strength of victory, all three of which would favor the Rams.
Minnesota's .333 strength of victory is second-lowest among current NFC playoff teams.
If they finish tied at 9-7
Finishing 9-7 would open the door for the Bears to win out, finish 10-6 and leap both the Vikings and Rams. If the Bears go 9-7 and were to finish in a three-way tie, they'd lose out to the Rams because of a head-to-head loss.
But if the Bears aren't included in this scenario, the Rams would still win the tiebreaker over Minnesota again because of best winning percentage against common opponents. The Vikings would be 2-3 while the Rams would be 3-2 or 4-1 against the Seahawks, Falcons, Bears and Cowboys.
Again, these are all nightmare scenarios for the Vikings. But that's why it's critical that they finish ahead of the Rams in the standings, because there's no chance for Minnesota to win a tiebreaker (assuming the Rams don't tie in any of their final three games).