The Vikings did what they needed to do with a blowout win over the Dolphins on Sunday, but their playoff hopes are no clearer thanks to the Redskins and Eagles pulling off big road upsets.
Washington was an 8 1/2-point underdog at Jacksonville before leaving with a 16-13 win, doing so behind quarterback Josh Johnson, who made his first start in the NFL in eight years.
Then on Sunday night, the Eagles turned to backup quarterback and reigning Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles and went from being 9 1/2-point underdogs to 30-23 winners over the Rams.
Chicago, meanwhile, eliminated the Packers from playoff contention and clinched the NFC North, leaving the Vikings fighting for one of two wild cards. The Seahawks also lost, so the wild-card picture is jam packed with only two weeks to go.
Carolina can make the race even more complicated if they beat the Saints at home on Monday Night Football.
NFC Wild Card:
- Seahawks (8-6)
- Vikings (7-6-1)
- Eagles (7-7)
- Redskins (7-7)
- Panthers (6-7)
If the playoffs started this week, the Seahawks and Vikings would be in as wild cards.
So what's the fastest route the Vikings can take to clinching a playoff berth now? It's simple: win at Detroit this week and have the Eagles and Redskins (and the Panthers if the Panthers win tonight), lose.
Week 16 key games:
- Redskins at Titans - 3:30 p.m. Saturday
- Vikings at Lions - 12 p.m. Sunday
- Texans at Eagles - 12 p.m. Sunday
- Falcons at Panthers - 12 p.m. Sunday
Fortunately for the Vikings, the Lions are reeling while the Eagles face a Texans team fighting for a first-round bye in the AFC, and the Redskins hit the road to play a Titans team still trying to make the playoffs. The Panthers will be favored against Atlanta, but that game matters way less if they lose tonight to the Saints.
Clinching scenario Week 16 if Carolina beats the Saints tonight:
- Vikings win + Eagles, Redskins, Panthers losses.
Clinching scenario Week 16 if Carolina loses to the Saints tonight:
- Vikings win + Eagles loss + Redskins loss.
- Vikings win + Eagles tie + Redskins loss.
- Vikings win + Eagles tie + Redskins tie.
Minnesota can still jump up and grab the top wild card spot, but that would require winning out against the Lions and Bears and the Seahawks losing one of their remaining two homes games to the Chiefs and Cardinals.
We're not even going to consider the range of possibilities if the Vikings lose to the Lions. Let's just hope that doesn't happen.
But what about the NFC East complicating things?
Because Dallas got shutout by the Colts 23-0, the Eagles and Redskins still have a chance to win the NFC East. But all the Cowboys have to do to clinch the division is get to nine wins, which they can do with a win over Tampa Bay at home this week or at the Giants in Week 17.
The Vikings likely want the Cowboys to win the NFC East and stay out of the messy wild-card picture.
A tiebreaker involving the Vikings is unlikely because the Vikings have a tie in their record, but if it were to happen the Vikings own a win over the Eagles and currently have a higher conference winning percentage than the Eagles, Redskins and Panthers.
What if it comes down to the final week?
If it comes down to the final week of the season, here's what each team has on the schedule:
- Bears at Vikings - 12 p.m.
- Panthers at Saints - 12 p.m.
- Eagles at Redskins - 12 p.m.
There's a chance that the Vikings could be 8-6-1 while the Eagles, Redskins and Panthers are all 8-7 entering Week 17. If that happens, the Eagles-Redskins game almost guarantees (barring a tie) one of them finishing 9-7, meaning Minnesota would absolutely have to beat the Bears to clinch with a final record of 9-6-1.
What's frustrating about that is that the Bears could easily still be playing for a first-round bye, meaning the Vikings would have to beat arguably the best defense in the NFL to make the playoffs.