We looked at the Vikings and we looked at the division. Now, let’s look at the conference and who the Vikings may have to worry about if they don’t win the NFC North:
1. Los Angeles Rams (9-1) – vs Chiefs, at Lions, at Bears, vs Eagles, at Cardinals, vs 49ers
2. New Orleans Saints (8-1)- vs Eagles, vs Falcons, at Cowboys, vs Buccaneers, at Panthers, vs Steelers, vs Panthers
Everyone is declaring the byes all but sewn-up, and while I’d have to agree, these are not easy schedules for the Rams and Saints. The thing is, 12-4 probably gets a bye, which means the Rams can go 3-3, and the Saints can go 4-3. The real race will be between these two teams for the first overall seed, or if the Panthers can close the gap to overtake the Saints in the NFC South. If the Vikings are left competing for a wild card, it likely won’t be against these teams. We can forget them (or cheer for them down the stretch).
The Other Division Leaders
3. Chicago Bears (6-3) – vs Vikings, at Lions, at Giants, vs Rams, vs Packers, at 49ers, at Vikings
4. Washington Redskins (6-3) – vs Texans, at Cowboys, at Eagles, vs Giants, at Jaguars, at Titans, vs Eagles
We already looked at the Bears in the divisional breakdown, as they are in a prime position to get to nine wins, and potentially ten. As for the Redskins, they reside in the NFC East. The winner of that division could easily be 8-8. If the Vikings need to overcome somebody in the NFC East to make the playoffs, they don’t deserve to be there.
The Wild Cards
5. Carolina Panthers (6-3) – at Lions, vs Seahawks, at Buccaneers, at Browns, vs Saints, vs Falcons, at Saints
6. Minnesota Vikings (5-3-1) – at Bears, vs Packers, at Patriots, at Seahawks, vs Dolphins, at Lions, vs Bears
The Vikings currently sit in a playoff spot, which means they control their own destiny. As for the Panthers, they are in a great position at 6-3, but also have a trying schedule. For arguments sake, we will pencil them in for one of the wild card spots and give the Bears the division. That leaves the Vikings to battle it out with the teams that are on the outside looking in.
7. Green Bay Packers (4-4-1) – at Seahawks, at Vikings, vs Cardinals, vs Falcons, at Bears, at Jets, vs Lions
The Packers were broken down in the division round, as well. They will travel to Seattle and Minnesota in consecutive weeks. The Vikings can relieve themselves of the worry of their rival with a win in Week 12 to pull further ahead in record and own the tiebreaker between the two teams. The Packers have four tough tests (Seattle, Minnesota, Atlanta, Chicago), and will need an MVP-caliber Aaron Rodgers to make their playoff push.
8. Seattle Seahawks (4-5) – vs Packers, at Panthers, vs 49ers, vs Vikings, at 49ers, vs Chiefs, vs Cardinals
What’s convenient about a lot of these teams is they all play each other. The Seahawks and Packers will play Week 11, and the loser of that game will have little, if any, room for error for the remainder of the season. The Vikings also play the Seahawks, so they can do themselves a service with a win in Seattle. If they fall, though, the Seahawks are still going to have to win in Carolina and against the Chiefs to make their playoff push.
9. Atlanta Falcons (4-5) – vs Cowboys, at Saints, vs Ravens, at Packers, vs Cardinals, at Panthers, at Buccaneers
The Falcons look to have the most difficult schedule ahead of them, and likely, Vikings fans will be rooting for them down the stretch (at Packers and at Panthers). The Falcons are lowest on my worry-scale of the 4-5 teams, as it’d require some extremely strong play to make it out of this schedule at 10-6.
The Other NFC East Teams
10. Dallas Cowboys (4-5) – at Falcons, vs Redskins, vs Saints, vs Eagles, at Colts, vs Buccaneers, at Giants
11. Philadelphia Eagles (4-5) – at Saints, vs Giants, vs Redskins, at Cowboys, at Rams, vs Texans, at Redskins
As I said, the NFC East is going to beat up on each other. For example, if the Eagles run the table against their gauntlet of a schedule, it’s unlikely there is another team with 10 wins in their division. We can ignore this division and these teams until further notice.
Outside of the Rams and Saints its difficult to declare any team safe in the NFC. Even the Panthers, who seem like the best bet at 6-3, have a tough road ahead, and their most recent game against the Steelers had them looking anything but playoff caliber.
As for the Vikings, they have four games against opponents in the NFC playoff race (at Bears, vs Packers, at Seahawks, vs Bears). These are the games that will determine the fate of their season. Even in two weeks, we will know a lot more about where they stand. For their playoff hopes, the most important game is Week 12 against the Packers. As they are the only two teams with ties, this game will essentially be worth two game (a win and the tiebreaker). A win against Green Bay and 9-6-1 is probably enough to make the playoffs as the rest of the NFC beats up on one another. This would be a rather uninspiring finish, and the real hope is that the Vikings continue their upward trajectory without the need to worry about is the rest of the conference. Vikings and their fans have bigger goals than the playoffs, but that’s the first step, and if there’s anything to take away, a 4-3 finish to the season would likely be enough to get them there.