Minnesota’s loss to Detroit coupled with the Eagles’ demolition of the New York Giants has made it ever more likely Minnesota is going to be playing in the Wild Card round this year.
That’s the bad news, but the good news? The Vikings are extremely unlikely to play Dallas in the first round of the playoffs, and outside of Dallas the NFC’s wild card competitors are all quite beatable.
So, of the likely opponents for Minnesota’s first playoff game, who does Minnesota want to face?
Right now there are 4 teams that are worth considering as playoff opponents, and in this article I will explore how Minnesota matches up with each of them.
Not quite a bye, but close:
New York Giants
These Giants would be a lot scarier if the Vikings were forced to face the early season iteration of them, but a plague of injuries, combined with a lack of roster talent catching up to the Giants, has led to a late season slump that could possibly render this Giants team out of the playoffs.
If they do make the playoffs though, this is a team that Minnesota matches up very well with. Among the possible opponents for Minnesota in the Wild Card round, the Giants have by far the worst WR group, and that matters a ton for a Vikings team that struggles massively to cover anyone with their secondary.
These Giants have also struggled on defense of late, giving up 31.75 points per game over their last 4 games, which coincides with a wave of injuries they faced to their cornerback group.
Overall this is a team Minnesota should be enthusiastic to face, in their Week 16 matchup, and if possible also in the playoffs.
Not Scared, but wary:
Early in the season Geno Smith looked like an MVP candidate and the Seattle Seahawks looked like they had a chokehold on the NFC West. But since Week 10, Seattle has dropped 3 of 4, with losses to the struggling Buccaneers, Panthers, and Raiders, and a one score victory over what has been a fairly dreadful Rams team.
Geno Smith has cooled down substantially, but perhaps more worrying for Seattle is a defense that was already bad when they were winning, has somehow gotten worse as the season has gone on – perhaps a familiar notion for Vikings fans.
If Smith regains his level of play from earlier in the season, and the Seattle defense tightens up a bit, this is a team that could be a significant threat to Minnesota in the playoffs, given how their roster is constructed with a pair of incredible receivers on the outside in Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf.
But until that happens these Seahawks should not worry our Vikings in the slightest.
These Commanders are above the Seahawks on the threat list because since Minnesota beat them in an ugly showdown in November, they’ve been on a roll. In fact over their last 8 games their only loss has been to Minnesota.
Coming off their bye they are set to host New York in a massive Sunday Night Football showdown with huge playoff implications, and a win will nearly lock them into a wild card berth in the NFC.
Yes Minnesota beat these Commanders, and yes the Commanders even had a ton of help from the refs in that game. But Washington can still pose massive issues for Minnesota if they are on their game, because they are strong where Minnesota is weak.
Washington boasts a sneaky good wide receiver core with weapons like Terry McLaurin, Jahan Dotson, and Curtis Samuel. Then of course their defensive line is a massive strength for this team, as we know from the amount of hits and pressure they were able to get against Kirk Cousins and the Vikings earlier this year.
Given where Minnesota is weak, in the secondary and at offensive line, Washington may be uniquely poised to take advantage of Minnesota’s issues, and that makes them dangerous.
Lastly this is a team with a ton of momentum, and a team that has one of the best records in the league with Taylor Heinicke at quarterback. Belief is a powerful tool, and this Washington team believes immensely in themselves, they won’t be an easy out.
Want to avoid:
Finally we get to the most dangerous team on my list – coincidentally also the team with the lowest odds to make the playoffs – the Detroit Lions.
A common reaction from Vikings fans in the aftermath of Sunday’s result was an indignant “How could this team lose to the Lions?! This is why they aren’t a threat in the playoffs”, or some message of similar content.
But we need to give credit to these Lions, as their 6-7 record tells massive falsehoods regarding how strong this team actually is.
They are currently on a streak of 5 wins in 6 games, with the only loss being a nailbiter against the Buffalo Bills.
They just beat us, by 11 points.
They blew out the Jacksonville Jaguars, a team that outside of that game has been winning quite consistently of late.
On the season they have a top 10 offense and a bottom 3 defense, but of late that defense has been slowly creeping closer and closer to average, while the offense has become even better, due to improved communication and health.
But the biggest issue is how Minnesota matches up with these Lions, and we saw it on Sunday. Their offense is loaded, from wide receiver, to offensive Line, to running Back, and even their quarterback Jared Goff has been playing quite well of late.
For a Minnesota team that has struggled massively on defense, these Lions pose issues. This Vikings team does not want to play in shootouts, especially with the offensive line as inconsistent as it has been. But unfortunately of all prospective first round matchups, this Lions team seems to be poised to threaten Minnesota’s vulnerabilities in the most dangerous ways.
If they had a playoff rematch, Minnesota would be hosting, which would make the game a lot easier, and I do think this is a winnable game. But these Lions are confident, they are hot, and they are simply a very talented and well coached team. Minnesota definitely wants to avoid this matchup.
What the Numbers say:
These are full season rankings, so they don’t tell the full picture, especially for teams that have been surging like Detroit, or slumping like Seattle and New York.
But overall we can see that Minnesota is still likely the best overall team among this grouping of teams, and regardless of who they play – even Detroit – Minnesota will be favorites, especially as hosts in the wild card round.
Favorites means something, but can Minnesota actually be expected to win against these teams?
My answer is an emphatic yes. Even the Lions who just beat us quite handily on Sunday are not a matchup that I am particularly afraid of, especially if Cousins and Jefferson show up again like they did.
We may be getting down on this team due to recent defensive struggles coupled with the loss to the Lions, but it remains exceedingly likely that this team will win its division, host a playoff game, and have a very great chance of winning said playoff game.
Regardless of who our Vikings end up playing in the first round of the playoffs, it is going to be an awesome and exciting game, and I am looking forward to it!