With just 5 games left in the season, the Vikings are in sole possession of first place in the NFC North, and have a one game advantage on the Packers, the only other team with a realistic shot at winning the division at this point. So what is it going to take to guarantee that the Vikings win the title? Had we won the game against the Packers last week, that answer would be a whole lot easier. It would have the Vikings at 9-2 right now, with the Packers (assuming they still lost to the Bears) at 6-5. Either two wins, or beating the Packers in Green Bay would be enough to clinch the division.
But, the truth of the matter is that we lost the game, and are sitting at 8-3 with the Packers at 7-4. If they win the final game of the season, they would own the head-to-head tie breaker, haven beaten the Vikings in both meetings. If the Vikings win the final game, then the Vikings would own the tie breaker, having a better record in the division. So that means, in order to win the division, the Vikings would either need to have a 2-game lead on the Packers heading into the final game (eliminating the chance for a tie-breaker) or be no more than a game behind the Packers leading into that game and earning a victory in Green Bay.
With a 1-game lead, and the Vikings having a tougher schedule than the Packers, the latter scenario appears to be more likely. The Vikings’ next four games are against Seattle, Arizona, Chicago and the Giants. The Packers meanwhile will be facing Detroit, Dallas, Oakland and Arizona. At face value, Detroit, Dallas and Oakland look to be locks for them to get wins, except that the Lions have found their roar recently, winning their last 3 (including a game at Lambeau) and demolishing the Eagles by a score of 45-14 on Thanksgiving day. Meanwhile, the Raiders could be clawing for a shot at a Wild Card spot, giving them some incentive to beat the odds when the Packers head to the West coast.
In all likelihood, the best result that the Vikings should be hoping for is the Packers to go 2-2 in their next 4 games, meaning the Vikings would need to go 3-1 to clinch the division before heading to Lambeau. This will not be an easy task, as the Giants look to be the only lock for the Vikings to beat. Their most notable wins were against Washington and Buffalo early in the season, and now they appear to be in a free-fall. Chicago has come on strong as of late, Seattle is starting to remind the NFL why they were the conference champions, and Arizona has an outside shot at home-field advantage in the playoffs.
The most likely scenario appears to be that this division is going to be decided, one way or another, in Green Bay on January 3rd. If the Packers win 3 of their next 4, the Vikings would clinch the division by beating Green Bay with anywhere from 1 to 3 wins heading into the game, or 0 to 2 wins if the Packers are only able to win 2 of the next 4.
It all starts this week, with the Cheese Heads heading to Detroit on Thursday night, so for one more day I’m going to be a Lions fan! Then it will be all Purple and Gold as we face off against playoff caliber opponents for the next five weeks and convince everyone in the NFL that the Vikings are for real, finishing off with a trouncing of the Packers on their home turf!