It's still quite early to be talking postseason with eight weeks remaining, but the Vikings' big win over the Chargers this weekend kept them firmly in the mix for a wild card spot in the NFC.
As things stand heading into Week 11, the Vikings are just 0.5 games back of the Panthers for the final playoff spot in the conference, and they hold a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Panthers from their victory in Week 6. The Vikings are tied with the 49ers and Falcons at 4-5, but have a better conference record (3-2) than either of those teams. They play the 49ers in two weeks in what will be a huge game for wild card positioning.
Here's what it looks like right now:
Even with eight weeks left, it seems unlikely that the top five seeds in the NFC will change come playoff time. Those five have proven themselves to be the most talented teams in the conference, and all of them are led by a top quarterback.
But the two spots after that are firmly up for grabs. The Saints have slipped since losing Jameis Winston, losing two in a row. The once free-falling Panthers now look like a legitimate threat with Christian McCaffrey healthy and Cam Newton back at QB to complement an excellent defense. Two of the other teams with four wins — the 49ers and Eagles — could also be in the mix as well. San Francisco, in particular, has excellent underlying numbers and made a statement by blowing out the Rams on Monday Night Football. I'm skeptical any of the three-win teams has enough talent to make a run, but you can't ever truly count out the Russell Wilson-led Seahawks.
Here's how the six teams with four or five wins stack up in terms of current DVOA ranking and remaining schedule difficulty (also based on DVOA):
- Saints: 8th in DVOA, 16th-toughest remaining schedule
- Panthers: 19th in DVOA, 4th-toughest remaining schedule
- Vikings: 9th in DVOA, 23rd-toughest remaining schedule
- 49ers: 7th in DVOA, 30th-toughest remaining schedule
- Falcons: 32nd in DVOA, 2nd-toughest remaining schedule
- Eagles: 15th in DVOA, 24th-toughest remaining schedule
Based on that data, I'd guess that the three spots will come down to the Saints, Vikings, and 49ers, with the Eagles having an outside shot. However, that doesn't factor in that the Panthers are a different team with McCaffrey and Newton leading the offense instead of Sam Darnold and Chuba Hubbard. The Falcons, dead last in DVOA and with a brutal schedule, can probably be written off.
These are the next three weeks for each of those six teams:
- Saints: @Eagles, vs. Bills, vs. Cowboys
- Panthers: vs. WFT, @Dolphins, BYE
- Vikings: vs. Packers, @49ers, @Lions
- 49ers: @Jaguars, vs. Vikings, @Seahawks
- Falcons: vs. Patriots, @Jaguars, vs. Buccaneers
- Eagles: vs. Saints, @Giants, @Jets
Given all that context, let's wrap up by taking a look at the Vikings' current playoff odds. Football Outsiders (the home of DVOA) gives them a 48.3 percent chance, ESPN's FPI has them at 40.8 percent, and FiveThirtyEight is at 41 percent.
Here's how big the Vikings' game against the Packers is on Sunday: per FiveThirtyEight, they'd have a 61 percent chance to make the playoffs with a win and just a 27 percent chance with a loss. Losing to Green Bay would drastically increase the pressure of the following week's trip to the Bay Area to take on the Niners.
To make the playoffs, the Vikings need to split this GB/SF stretch, beat the Lions to get to 6-6, and then go 3-2 during their final five games: vs. PIT, @CHI, vs. LAR, @GB, vs. CHI.
Buckle up, folks. The stretch run is upon us.
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