NFC Playoff Picture Week 15: Vikings Playoff Odds, Seeding Scenarios, Tiebreakers

Will Ragatz

In the blink of an eye, there are only three weeks left in the 2019 NFL regular season. The NFC playoff picture has a pretty clear shape at this point, but there is still a ton on the line over the next three weekends.

The Vikings took care of business against the Lions on Sunday, but they didn't get much help. The Packers narrowly fended off Washington and maintained their one-game lead in the NFC North. The Rams and Bears both won their games to stay on the Vikings' heels for the second wild-card spot.

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With three games remaining, everything is in play for the Vikings. Because of their current tiebreaker situations, the most likely scenario is that they remain in the sixth seed when January rolls around. But they could miss the playoffs entirely if they slip up, they could jump past the Seahawks or Packers, and they still are technically alive for a first-round bye.

Let's break down each possibility to get a complete sense of where the Vikings stand entering Week 15.

The NFC North race

Winning the division is still a possibility for the Vikings, but they'll need some help. Even if they win out – including a win over the Packers in Week 16 – and both teams finish at 12-4 with a head-to-head split, the Packers would own the next tiebreaker (division record) thanks to the Vikings' loss in Chicago in September.

What this means is the Vikings need to be big Bears fans this weekend. If the suddenly resurgent Mitch Trubisky can lead his team to a win at Lambeau Field, the Vikings would be back to controlling their own destiny if they handle the 5-8 Chargers in Los Angeles. In that situation, they'd just need to beat the Packers and Bears at home in the season's final two weeks to win the division and get a home playoff game.

If the Packers win this weekend, there would be one more chance for the Vikings to take the division. They'd have to win out, and they'd need Green Bay to fall to the Lions in Detroit in Week 17. With the Lions having lost nine of their last ten, the best bet seems to be hoping the Bears can get it done this weekend. Right now, FiveThirtyEight gives the Vikings just a 24 percent chance to win the NFC North. The loss in Seattle hurt.

Holding onto the sixth seed

Even at 9-4, the Vikings are not a lock to make the playoffs; FiveThirtyEight gives them a 72 percent chance to secure a spot. The Rams were in a tough position at 6-5 after getting blasted by the Ravens a couple weeks ago, but they've looked a lot more like their 2018 selves over the past two games, wins over the Cardinals and Seahawks. The defending NFC champs look poised to pounce if the Vikings slip up, but it's also not a sure thing that they've truly turned a corner.

Vikings fans should be rooting hard against the Rams going forward. They travel to Dallas to take on the 6-7 Cowboys this weekend, then visit the 11-2 49ers in Week 16 and finish with a home game against the 3-9-1 Cardinals. If the Rams win out and the Vikings lose a game, the Rams would own the tiebreaker and the Vikings would miss the playoffs for a second straight year.

  • If the Rams win out and the Vikings lose only to the Packers or Bears, the Rams would have a 9-3 conference record and the Vikings would be 8-4. That's the first wild card tiebreaker.
  • If the Rams win out and the Vikings lose only to the Chargers, both teams would be 9-3 in NFC games. The next tiebreaker would be common games, and the Rams would win that too. They'd be 4-1 against the Falcons, Cowboys, Bears, and Seahawks, while the Vikings would be 3-2.

The Vikings can't clinch a playoff spot this week, even if they win and the Rams lose. But if they go 2-1 over the last three, they would just need the Rams to lose a single game. With road dates in Dallas and SF, that seems entirely possible. If they go 1-2, they'd need the Rams to lose twice. The Vikings would obviously be in if they win out.

Put simply, the magic number of combined Vikings wins and Rams losses needed for the Vikings to clinch a spot is three.

Passing Seahawks for the fifth seed

The sixth seed would mean a trip to Green Bay, New Orleans, San Francisco, or Seattle. None of those are particularly desirable. The fifth seed in the NFC, which is currently occupied by the Seahawks, gets to travel to the NFC East winner, which will be 9-7 at best. The Vikings have already beaten the Eagles and Cowboys this year, so that would clearly be a preferable wild card weekend matchup.

Unfortunately, leaping the Seahawks is unlikely. Since Seattle has a head-to-head tiebreaker on the Vikings, they'd need to lose two of their final three while the Vikings win out. The Seahawks' last three games are at the Panthers (who have lost five in a row), home against the lowly Cardinals, and home against the 49ers. While that last one is clearly difficult, neither of their next two games seem particularly lose-able.

Snagging a first-round bye

At this point, we're talking about scenarios that highly unlikely. The Vikings have just a six percent chance of securing a top-two seed in the NFC, according to FiveThirtyEight. Of course, they'd need to win out and finish at 12-4. They'd need the Packers to lose to the Bears or Lions, so the Vikings win their division. The most improbable aspect is that they'd need the 10-3 Saints to lose two of their final three (vs. 6-7 Colts, at 8-5 Titans, at 5-8 Panthers). That's because if the Vikings and Saints both finished at 12-4, the Saints (who beat the Seahawks and Bears) would win the common opponents tiebreaker.