Vikings' Rooting Guide for NFL Playoff Implications of Week 14

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistDecember 12, 2020

Vikings' Rooting Guide for NFL Playoff Implications of Week 14

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    The dominoes have fallen for the Minnesota Vikings to be in the NFC's final wild-card spot if the playoffs were to start today. But there are still four more weeks of the regular season left, so there's work to do for Mike Zimmer's team if it's going to punch its ticket to the postseason.

    When the Vikings started the season 1-5, it seemed as though doomsday for the franchise was inevitable. But this is 2020. Nothing is predictable. Even the New York Jets nearly won a football game Sunday.

    The Vikings are sitting fairly pretty, with shortening odds to make the final field of seven with each win. According to the New York Times' playoff projection tool, the team's chances of making the postseason went from 29 percent to 43 percent with their win over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday.

    Still, they will need some help to both get into the field and potentially improve their seeding. They are just one game behind the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and can pass them with a head-to-head win Sunday. They are two games behind the Seahawks for the fifth seed.

    That could be an important distinction, as the five-seed will have the honor of playing the NFC East champion. Here's whom Vikings fans should be pulling for in Week 14 to optimize their playoff chances and seeding.

NFC Playoff Picture

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    Before we get into the specifics of whom the Vikes and their fans should be rooting for, let's look at the big picture. The New Orleans Saints and the Green Bay Packers are locked in a battle for the top seed.

    Despite missing Drew Brees, the Saints sit atop the standings 10-2. The Packers are just behind them at 9-3, followed by the NFC West-leading Los Angeles Rams at 9-4. The NFC East continues to be a mesmerizing train wreck of a division. The New York Giants and Washington Football Team are tied for the lead at 5-7.

    That wild-card spots are occupied by the 8-4 Seattle Seahawks, 7-5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the 6-6 Vikings. The Arizona Cardinals, at 6-6, are on the outside looking in, followed by four 5-7 clubs in the Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, San Francisco 49ers and the Washington Football Team.

    The Vikings aren't likely to catch the Packers in the NFC North standings, but there's upward mobility within the wild-card race.

Texans at Bears

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    The Bears have gone from looking like a playoff lock early in the season to a distant challenger in the wild-card picture. This game doesn't hold a ton of weight for the Vikings, but it does practically eliminate an element of the race for the final playoff spot.

    After starting 5-1, the Bears moved to 5-7 with six straight losses. That includes a 19-13 loss to the Vikings in Week 10.

    Given the Bears' switch back to Mitchell Trubisky and the consequent uninspired football that has transpired, there's little reason to believe they can come back from the depths. A loss to the Texans would confirm that the best they could do is 8-8.

    Houston should be up to the task. The Texans have won two of their past three games and took the AFC South-leading Indianapolis Colts to the brink in a 26-20 loss last time out. Deshaun Watson alone gives them a huge advantage in quarterback play.

    Rooting interest: Texans

Cardinals at Giants

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    Larry Maurer/Associated Press

    The Cardinals are tied with the Vikings at 6-6, but Minnesota holds the tiebreaker based on wins over common opponents. A Vikings win, combined with a Cardinals loss to the Giants, would at least give them sole possession of the final playoff spot.

    This is the biggest non-Vikings game of Week 14. A win for the Giants could boost the Vikings' playoff chances by 10 percent, according to the New York Times' playoff projection tool.

    This outcome seems a lot more likely than it did just a few weeks ago. The Giants—who are the No. 4 seed by virtue of leading the NFC East—have won four in a row, with three of those coming on the road.

    The Giants defense has been particularly stifling. They have allowed a maximum of 20 points in each of those four games, including holding the Seahawks to 12 in Week 13.

    As good as the defense has been, rooting for the Giants might mean rooting for Colt McCoy to win another game against a playoff-caliber team in 2020. Daniel Jones was out against the Seahawks with a hamstring injury, and his status is still in question for the Cardinals game.

    Jones has been inconsistent this season, but McCoy wasn't any better. He threw for 105 yards with a touchdown and an interception on 13-of-22 passing. It isn't the best situation for the Vikings, but the Giants' recent play makes it possible.

    Rooting interest: Giants

Washington at 49ers

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    The Buffalo Bills dealt a major blow to the San Francisco 49ers' hopes of earning the final wild-card spot in Week 13. A loss to the Washington Football Team on Sunday would be a death knell.

    The 49ers are still lurking at 5-7 with two winnable games on the horizon against Washington and the Dallas Cowboys before finishing with NFC West contests against the Cardinals and Seahawks. The Football Team—like the Giants—are sudden NFC East contenders with three wins in a row.

    The most recent win snapped the Steelers' win streak, so anything can happen. But getting into the wild-card race would mean winning out with the 49ers, Seahawks, Carolina Panthers and Philadelphia Eagles coming up.

    It could be done, but it doesn't seem like the team is there yet. The 49ers, who won the NFC last season, are the bigger threat with the opportunity to regain momentum this week and go on to finish out unbeaten.

    Therefore, the Vikings should be hoping Washington is able to burst a second bubble in as many weeks.

    Rooting interest: Washington

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