Boiling down NFC North playoff scenarios

OK. Let's wrap up the NFC North's playoff positioning as best we can at the moment. Many thanks to many conversations I've had this evening with several fine public relations staffers as well as the many curses I've thrown at the ESPN.com Playoff Machine when forced to consider another combination of games.

We've noted the Green Bay Packers have won the NFC North. They can earn the No. 1 overall seed by winning their final two games, combined with two losses by the Atlanta Falcons and one by the San Francisco 49ers (over their final three games).

The Chicago Bears need help to get to the playoffs. Their easiest path is to win out and have both the Minnesota Vikings and New York Giants to lose at least one of their remaining two games.

The Vikings have by far the most complicated scenario.

For the moment, they are the NFC's sixth seed. For those of you who want to know how they jumped to that spot, ESPN.com's Playoffs Standings page offers a complete explanation.

The Vikings, however, DO NOT control their destiny because there are a number of scenarios where they can win their final two games, finish 10-6 and still miss the playoffs. They would lose a tiebreaker to the Dallas Cowboys (common games) and the New York Giants (conference games) in that scenario.

So the Vikings' easiest path to the playoffs is to win their final two games and have the Cowboys and Giants each lose one game. That would avoid a tiebreaker entirely with those teams, and the Vikings would beat the Bears if both teams are 10-6 because of a better division record.

But according to the Playoff Machine, the Vikings could lose to the Texans next week and remain in contention for a wild-card spot if they can beat the Green Bay Packers in Week 17 and finish 9-7. That would require both the Giants and Cowboys losing in Week 17, as well as the Bears being no better than 9-7.

OK all. Sleep tight. Back with you Monday morning.