The Vikings entered the weekend holding the No. 6 seed in the NFC after two impressive wins in a row. But they weren't able to get the job done against the 49ers, and as a result, they've dropped out of the top seven — for now.
San Francisco leapt ahead of the Vikings and now has both a one-game lead and a head-to-head tiebreaker in its favor. The Washington Football Team, left for dead when it started 2-6, has now won three in a row to surge into the No. 7 spot behind an impressive 5-2 record against NFC teams.
Here's what the playoff picture in the conference looks like heading into the final six weeks of the 2021 season.
Despite currently sitting on the outside looking in, the Vikings still have a pretty clear path to the postseason. They've got a talented roster that still hasn't lost a game by more than eight points and the fifth-easiest remaining schedule in the NFL (according to Football Outsiders' DVOA ratings), which starts this Sunday against the winless Lions.
After playing Detroit, the Vikings get a struggling Steelers team at home on Thursday Night Football and close with two of their final four games against the Bears. All three of those teams are in the bottom ten in the NFL in DVOA.
FiveThirtyEight gives the Vikings exactly a 50 percent chance to make the playoffs. DVOA is higher at 55.4 percent, while ESPN's FPI is lower at 44.6 percent. Each of those three projection systems gives the Vikings the seventh-best playoff odds in the NFC, comfortably ahead of teams like Washington, the Saints, and the Eagles for the time being. The Falcons and Panthers seem highly unlikely to remain in the hunt come late December/early January.
We'll find out what the Vikings are made of over the next three games. In theory, there's no reason why they can't rip off three wins in a row against the Lions, Steelers, and Bears — ideally even winning a game or two by more than one score. But very little has come easily for this team this season, and their injury issues (which include playing without Dalvin Cook for at least a couple of those games) aren't going away.
They've gotta treat every week like a playoff game and find a way to get the job done.
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