(WCCO) — Thanks to their last minute win over the Carolina Panthers this past Sunday, the Vikings remained very much alive in the playoff conversation. With wins in four of their last five games, they sit at 5-6, just one game back of the Arizona Cardinals for the final playoff spot in the NFC with five weeks remaining. And, they got some good news Wednesday when receiver Adam Thielen was activated from the Reserve/COVID list. So, what are the chances of Mike Zimmer’s group rallying to make a trip to the postseason?
Well, the projections systems at FiveThirtyEight and ESPN aren’t overly optimistic. FiveThirtyEight gives the Vikings a 30 percent chance while ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) gives them a 24.4 percent shot. There is some good news. They hold the tiebreaker over both Chicago and San Francisco at the moment thanks to their win over the Bears and a better conference record than the 49ers.
But, there are still five games left to play. So, what do the Vikings need to do down the stretch to make a playoff run? First, let’s take a look at the remaining schedule. They face the Jaguars (1-10), Bears (5-6) and Lions (4-7) at home while having to travel to Tampa Bay (7-4) and New Orleans (9-2). On paper that would appear to be two should be wins (Jaguars, Lions) two probable losses (Bucs, Saints) and one toss-up.
The FiveThirtyEight win probabilities mostly agree with that assessment favoring the Vikings in the Jaguars (83%), Lions (72%) and Bears (64%) games while seeing them as underdogs against the Bucs (34%), Saints (20%). If they were to follow that trend, they’d end with an 8-8 record.
They would need some help in this scenario. So, looking at the Cardinals, who are directly ahead of them in the playoff race, Arizona has two games remaining against the Rams along with the Giants, Eagles and 49ers. The Cardinals are, by win probability, underdogs against the Rams in both games, favorites over both the Giants (59%) and Eagles (61%) and slight favorites against the 49ers (52%). If Arizona goes 3-2 over that stretch, they finish 9-7 and the Vikings miss out.
So, let’s say they lose the game that’s closest by win probability, against the 49ers. Using the ESPN playoff machine, we entered the Vikings three wins and two losses and the Cardinals wins and losses. In that case, the Vikings at 8-8 make it over the Cardinals due to a better strength of victory rating.
If the Cardinals were to win the game against the 49ers along with wins over the Giants and Eagles and finish 9-7, then the Vikings would need a win over one of the Buccaneers or Saints in order to keep that strength of victory tiebreak and beat out the Cardinals for the final spot. If Arizona pulls out a win in one of the two Rams games, then the Vikings job is significantly harder, having to win out to pull off a playoff berth by tiebreak.
Basically, the Vikings need to hope that however many games they win down the stretch, Arizona wins one less. It all starts up this Sunday when the Vikings host the Jacksonville Jaguars at 12:00 p.m. CST on CBS.