Earlier this week, I spent a lot of words laying out all the Vikings playoff scenarios. As Week 15 gets closer, let’s drill in on one peculiar feature of this weekend’s Vikings-Chargers game.
Basically, the game has huge implications for the Vikings in terms of their overall chances of making the playoffs. Per FiveThirtyEight, which allows you to adjust playoff odds based on results for the next three games — which now takes us to the end of the regular season — the Vikings currently have a 72% chance of making the postseason in any form (either wild card or division winner).
That number jumps to 86% if we add a “W” to the Vikings’ ledger against the Chargers, but it drops to 54% with a loss. That’s a pretty big swing from feeling pretty good to roughly a coin flip chance, and the reason is simple: A Minnesota loss means the Rams would grab the final wild card spot by winning out, and it also leaves the Vikings a lot more vulnerable to missing the playoffs if they also drop one of their final two at home to Green Bay or Chicago. But the Vikings are guaranteed to make the playoffs if they win out, and the Rams still have to play at Dallas and at San Francisco.
The improved play of the Rams in particular and the Bears just a little have made the overall playoff race tighter than it was a couple weeks ago.
However: This weekend’s Vikings game means very little in their pursuit of the NFC North title. Their odds of winning it right now are just 24% (they were about 50% before that loss to Seattle two weeks ago). But a win Sunday without factoring in any other results moves that to just 26% while a loss drops it to just 21%.
Why? Because the Vikings’ division chances are almost solely tied to how Green Bay fares down the stretch in its final three games against division foes — and particularly how Sunday’s game between the Packers and Bears in Green Bay turns out.
Minnesota trails Green Bay by two games in the loss column (2-2 vs. 3-0) in division record. So the Vikings need the Packers to lose one other division game in addition to the Week 16 Monday Night Football matchup between the Vikings and Packers at U.S. Bank Stadium.
If the Vikings win but the Packers also win Sunday, the Vikings’ division odds will sit at just 9% because Green Bay would only need to win one more game — Vikings or Lions — to win the division by virtue of having the division tiebreaker. If the Vikings lose and the Packers win Sunday, the Vikings’ division odds are nearly identical at 8%.
But if the Vikings LOSE and the Packers also lose Sunday, the Vikings would have a 43% chance of winning the division. They would control their own destiny, with wins over Green Bay and Chicago ensuring an 11-5 finish and a tiebreaker edge over Green Bay to win the NFC North (it would come down to the fourth tiebreaker, conference record, since in this scenario the teams would be tied in head to head, division record and common opponent record).
Winning Sunday while the Packers lose Sunday would put the Vikings at 54% to win the division — meaningful only because it would allow the Vikings to win the division by beating the Packers and then losing to the Bears if the Packers also lost to the Lions, the latter of which seems unlikely given Detroit’s trajectory.
Best-case scenario for the Vikings is obviously just to keep winning. But if what you care about the most is winning the NFC North and securing at least one home playoff game, the game you need to pay attention to the most this weekend is Packers-Bears, not Vikings-Chargers.