Week 7 of the NFL season was an ugly one. There were just three one-possession games out of 13 total, and one of those was a sloppy mess of a Saints victory over the Seahawks on Monday Night Football. There were twice as many games decided by at least 20 points.
Regardless, the Vikings' bye week went well in terms of other potential NFC wild card contenders losing. The Panthers and Bears came into this week tied with Minnesota at 3-3, but neither could muster more than a field goal in blowout losses. It would take a big turnaround for either team to make a push for the playoffs. The 2-3 49ers are also facing major questions after a rough home loss against the Colts, and a trio of 2-4 teams (the Seahawks, Eagles, and Washington) all lost to drop them further down in the standings.
The only bad news was the Saints winning and going a full game above the Vikings to hold onto the sixth seed for now, and the Falcons avoiding disaster against the Dolphins to move to 3-3.
Let's take a look at the current playoff picture in the conference.
The Vikings hold the tiebreaker over the Falcons for the final spot thanks to their two-game advantage in conference record.
First and foremost, the Vikings obviously need to take things one week at a time and handle their own business over their final 11 games. They've got a tough schedule that begins with a brutal four-game stretch of the Cowboys, Ravens, Chargers, and Packers, but they also have the talent on both sides of the ball to make a push upwards in the standings if they put it all together.
The good news is that they might only need to go 9-8 (or maybe even 8-9...) to sneak into the playoffs.
The top five teams in the NFC seem pretty set. It would be surprising to see the Saints, Vikings, or anyone else make a push into that group. That leaves those two teams looking to hold off the rest for the final two seeds.
At this point, I think the biggest threat to the Vikings might be the Falcons. Their three wins are against the Giants, Jets, and Dolphins, and they were dead last in DVOA heading into Week 7, but Atlanta's offense and schedule will give it a chance. With Calvin Ridley back, plus the emergence of Kyle Pitts and Cordarrelle Patterson, Matt Ryan has a nice group of offensive weapons to lean on. Couple that with a schedule that includes the Panthers (twice), Jaguars, and Lions, and you can see the path for the Falcons remaining in the hunt all year.
The Bears, Panthers, and 49ers just don't seem to have the quarterback play to conceivably make a run, particularly Chicago with its brutal schedule. Maybe the 49ers turn it around or the Seahawks get going when Russell Wilson comes back, but both seem unlikely. I'd be shocked if any of the non-Dallas NFC East teams got hot anytime soon.
The Vikings also have head-to-head tiebreakers against the Seahawks and Panthers and will play the Bears (twice) and 49ers later in the year.
We'll see. With Week 8 up next, we're not even halfway through the 18-week season. But it's now been long enough to have a decent idea of where things stand in the NFC, and it looks like it'll be the Vikings battling with a couple NFC South teams for the final two playoff spots in the conference.
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