Friday, December 15, 2006

Weak NFC Keeps Door Ajar For Vikings

In most NFL seasons, a 6-7 start would be cause for little more than hot stove chatter regarding the next head coach and the multitude of changes that the team faces in the off-season. In the NFC of 2006, a 6-7 start, however, is cause for optimism.

So it goes for the Minnesota Vikings who, at 6-7, enter the fifteenth week of the 2006 NFL season with reasonable prospects of making the playoffs in the awful NFC. Though Seattle's surprising home loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Thursday evening might actually hurt the Vikings' chances of making the playoffs in a tie-breaker system.

Where They Stand

Were the season to end today, the Vikings would be on the outside looking in. At 6-7, they would finish one game out of the playoff hunt behind the New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, and Atlanta Falcons. The finish would mark a disappointing end to a disappointing season.

Prospects

Fortunately, the season does not end today. And while reality suggests a 1-2 finish for the Vikings, in the interest of fanning the flames of fans' playoff hopes, I'll temporarily suspend disbelief and assume a 3-0 finish.

The Vikings are virtually assured of a playoff spot if they can manage to finesse victories in each of their last three games. With a 9-7 record, the Vikings would finish no worse than tied for seventh in the NFC. That wouldn't be good enough to make the play-offs, but it also probably is unrealistically low of a finish given the other contenders' remaining schedules.

With games remaining against Philadelphia, New Orleans, and at Washington, the New York Giants have a difficult finish in 2006. There recent play does not instill the bettor's confidence that they can pull off a trifecta, but, given the play in the NFC this season, anything is possible and nothing would be surprising.

More likely, however, is that the Giants lose at least one of their remaining three games. That would leave them at 9-7 for the season with an 8-4 Conference record. Should Minnesota win out, they would equal these numbers.

Philadelphia is in a similar situation to that of the Giants, with games remaining at the Giants, at Dallas, and against the Falcons. As with the Giants, the Eagles have been up and down all season and hardly strike fear in opponents or rustle up images of a 3-0 finish against a decent slate of competition.

Like the Giants, the Eagles are likely to lose at least one of their remaining games, leaving them at 9-7 for the season with an 8-4 Conference record. Three Minnesota wins in the final three games would match this record.

Atlanta, too, has a relatively challenging closing schedule that is unlikely to lead to a 3-0 finish. Moreover, of the Vikings' three main competitors for one of two wild-card spots, the Falcons arguably have struggled the most of late. With games remaining against Dallas, Carolina, and at Philadelphia, an 0-3 finish would not be surprising.

Even with a 2-1 finish, however, the Falcons would finish 9-7 but with a 7-5 Conference record. That would leave the Falcons on the outside looking in at a possible three-way tie-breaker scenario involving Minnesota, Philadelphia, and New York.

Tie-Breakers

If Minnesota finishes the season tied with more than one other team for the final playoff spot, the team advancing to the playoffs would be determined by Conference record then by common competition. After that, things get more complicated.

Among Philadelphia, New York, and Atlanta, Atlanta faces the longest odds of making the playoffs in a multi-team tie-breaker system as it already has four Conference losses with three Conference games remaining. The loser of this week's Philadelphia/New York tilt will also have four Conference losses, but with only two Conference games remaining.

Probabilities

Of the four teams currently in the hunt for two wild-card spots in the NFC, the Vikings have, by far, the easiest remaining schedule. That's meant little for the Vikings up until now, but at least it's something upon which to hang playoff hopes for another week. With games remaining against the New York Jets, at Green Bay, and against the St. Louis Rams, the Vikings can at least claim a reasonable opportunity to win out. Unfortunately, even if the Vikings triumph in their remaining three games, their strength of schedule during that stretch could doom their playoff prospects.

Philadelphia has played the best of late of the Vikings' main competitors for a wild-card berth and is the odds-on favorite of the four to capture one of the wild-card berths. If Philadelphia wins out and the Giants finish 2-1, that will mean that Atlanta finished no better than 2-1. In a three-way tie-breaker between Minnesota, Atlanta, and New York, with all three teams at 9-7, Atlanta would be eliminated based on Conference record. The tie-breaker between Minnesota and New York would then be determined by strength of victory as both teams would finish with .500 records against common opponents.

Strength of victory is determined by calculating the combined winning percentages of the teams that a team has beaten. Under the above scenario, the Vikings would finish with a strength of victory value of approximately .372 and the Giants would finish with a strength of victory value of approximately .436, beating the Vikings out for the final wild card berth.

In short, the Vikings' best prospects for making the 2006 playoffs hinge on Philadelphia beating New York, New York losing at least two of its remaining games, Atlanta losing at least one more game, and the Vikings' winning out. Minnesota can still qualify for the playoffs with another defeat, but the odds clearly get much longer and the amount of help that the Vikings would need under such a scenario would increase substantially.

Up Next: Pre-game.

1 comment:

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