Even big wins do not make it easy for the Vikings.

After dismantling the Dolphins at home Sunday, Minnesota was still looking over their shoulder thanks to a couple of wins from other wild card hopefuls. Washington improbably picked up a win on the road with Josh Johnson at quarterback, but even more troubling, the Nick Foles-led Eagles took out the Rams, in Los Angeles, in front of a primetime crowd. Add the Bears clinching the division and Sunday, in some ways, was about as bad a day Vikings fans could have hoped for on a winning Sunday.

But a couple silver linings emerged, one expected and one very much unexpected. Carolina, a threatening roster despite the losing streak, was putting on a defensive clinic against the Saints. A win would have kept them in the mix for a wild card. And the last thing the Vikings need right now is a bevy of teams fighting for contention. Fortunately, the Saints were able to pull out the narrow win, as Cam Newton’s potential game-winning drive fell short. That put one team effectively down. 

That result was predictable, even if the journey to get there was surprising. What was not foreseeable was the egg the Seahawks would lay in San Francisco. Nick Mullens had arguably his best game, leading the 49ers to a 26-23 upset over the current fifth seed and leaving the door open a crack for the Vikings to jump Seattle in the playoff standings. 

So now, with these results in hand, the Vikings are looking at two teams behind them, one team in front, all in play. One of Washington and Philadelphia will eliminate the other when they play in week 17, and both have tough tasks against AFC South opponents this week. Seattle is also staring at a challenge with Kansas City coming to town this week. There is now a decent chance that the Vikings leapfrog Seattle, should they win out. 

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The Vikings path to winning out is not quite as clean as fans may have hoped, however. Their week 16 opponent, Detroit, has lost three of four, including this week in Buffalo. But Ford Field has recently been a difficult locale for the Vikings, regardless of the state of the Lions at the time. Granted, they should win, and are strongly favored at minus-5.5 right now. Plus, the defensive line racked up a whopping 10 sacks last time these two played, and are coming off a nine-sack performance against Miami. Expecting a win in Detroit Sunday is not unreasonable.

The bigger question is where the Bears will be come week 17. Chicago has the division wrapped up, and most likely will end up with the third seed. Dallas’ loss in Indianapolis means the Bears will not be moving down, and the Saints’ win likely puts the top seed out of reach. That said, the second seed is still alive. 

Though the Rams are struggling mightily right now, their final two games are against the Cardinals and 49ers. If they win both, they finish no lower than second. However, the Bears have a head-to-head win over the Rams, so if the Bears beat the 49ers in week 16, that means they enter U.S. Bank Stadium with a chance at a playoff bye. They will be motivated to play their starters at that point, and since no team at the top of the NFC is playing better right now, that is a looming game on the Vikings’ schedule. 

Still, FiveThirtyEight likes Minnesota’s chances. They still have them at 58 percent to make the playoffs, with Philadelphia comfortably behind at 39 percent. And there is a realistic chance the Vikings clinch a playoff spot this week. 

Minnesota clinches a playoff spot in week 16 with:

  • A win

AND losses by:

  • Washington
  • Philadelphia

But if they do not get that help, they still control their own destiny for the postseason. That destiny goes through the Bears at home, which is not ideal. But the fact remains that the Vikings playoff path is both clearer and more open after week 15.

–Sam Smith is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage Vikings and Deputy Editor for Full Press NFL. Like and Follow @samc_smith.

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