Vikings’ fate best left up to mathemeticians

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — With two weeks left in the regular season, the playoff scenarios for the Minnesota Vikings are so wide-ranging they could confuse even mathematicians and oddsmakers.

Minnesota heads into Week 16 currently holding a playoff spot. Yet, with the myriad tiebreakers and computations, the Vikings (8-6) somehow don’t control their own destiny. Even with wins the final two weeks against the Houston Texans (12-2) and Green Bay Packers (10-4), Minnesota would need things to break its way elsewhere to hold on to a playoff spot.

With so many possibilities, confusion is a given. So Vikings coach Leslie Frazier says he won’t even try to understand all the different scenarios. He only has one thing on his mind.

“It will be really focusing on how we can beat a very, very good football team, the Houston Texans,” Frazier said. “That’s the most important thing, without question.”

Minnesota has been focused on winning all four games in the final quarter of the season, believing it had to win each game to have a chance at the playoffs. So far, so good with impressive victories against Chicago and St. Louis, two possible playoff teams, the past two weeks.  Now, getting two more wins has become increasingly important and make the playoff chances more realistic. But proving how wide-ranging the different playoff possibilities can be, the Vikings can finish out of the postseason with two wins and also make the playoffs with two losses.

Minnesota has tried to stay focused on what’s in its control and on winning its remaining games, and that worked last Sunday against St. Louis.

“Well, we did talk about scenarios, but the most important thing we talked about was the Rams and what we had to do to win that game,” Frazier said. “It won’t be a whole lot different this week. We’ll talk at length about what it will take to beat the Texans in Houston. They are a very good football team. So that’s where our conversation and our focus really has to be, on the team that we’re playing.”

For now, the easiest breakdown of the Vikings’ chances revolve around winning their last two games and the New York Giants (8-6) losing one of their final two games and thus losing the NFC East. Minnesota would earn the final wild-card spot with the Dallas Cowboys (8-6) or Washington Redskins (8-6) winning the NFC East and New York losing one of its final two games at Baltimore and at home against the Philadelphia Eagles.

The Vikings need to finish even with or better than Chicago (8-6) and have a tiebreaker win situation against the NFC East teams. If Minnesota, Dallas and the Giants finish with the same record, the Vikings fall behind the two NFC East teams (with Dallas winning the East) based on tiebreakers.

Minnesota will own the tiebreaker over the Bears if both teams are 10-6 because of a better record in the NFC North. If several teams are tied, the tiebreakers are settled within divisions first and then go to the conference, so the Vikings would eliminate Chicago. If Washington holds on to the East lead, Dallas would eliminate New York and be eliminated by Minnesota.

Since the Vikings lost earlier this season to Washington and Seattle (9-5) and thus would lose the single tiebreaker to both teams, the best scenario would be for the Redskins to win the NFC East and Seattle to secure the first wild-card spot, with Dallas and New York losing tiebreaker scenarios with Minnesota.

Whew.

As confusing as it all is, surely the Vikings appreciate this December over the past two seasons, when there was no talk of playoffs. Last season, Minnesota was simply trying to avoid the team record for losses in a reason in what ended up a 3-13 year.

“It’s a good difference,” Frazier said. “We were playing a different style of ball and the approach was definitely different. We do have a lot of guys with a lot of pride who want to play well and yesterday’s game was an indication of it. We wanted to get a win on the road in the worst way to keep things going in the right direction. But every year is different in our league, different guys, different attitude, different approach. But kudos to this group of guys for just focusing on the now and not the past and the future — just the now, which is good.”

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