Rams-Vikings matchup could serve as playoff predictor

Sunday's matchup between the Vikings and the Rams could be a big one in eventually setting the NFC playoff picture. AP Photo/Seth Perlman

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Each week, ESPN's Stats & Information teams evaluates every matchup in the NFL and seeks out the ones that are most intriguing.

While the St. Louis Rams' trip to play the Minnesota Vikings this week isn't the sexiest matchup on the slate, it is the one that could have the most far-reaching playoff consequences, according to ESPN's metrics.

Here's how the numbers breakdown using the Football Power Index and the game predictor model:

  • Entering Sunday's game, the Vikings and Rams have the sixth and seventh-best chances of making the playoffs in the NFC. Of course, only six teams qualify for the postseason, so that would mean they're essentially jockeying for the final spot as we hit the halfway point of the season.

  • As of Wednesday morning, FPI projects the 5-2 Vikings to have a 45 percent chance to make the playoffs. If Minnesota beats the Rams, that number jumps to roughly 59 percent. If the Vikings lose, it drops to approximately 27 percent.

  • The Rams currently sit with a 36 percent chance to make the playoffs but, like the Vikings, their numbers will change dramatically regardless of outcome. If the Rams win, the playoff probability improves to about 54 percent while a loss would mean a dip to about 21 percent.

  • So given all of that, which team does FPI view as the favorite on Sunday? That would be Minnesota, though not by much. FPI gives Minnesota a 56 percent chance to win with a projected point differential of just two. In other words, it's closer to a pick 'em.

Numbers aren't required to point out the importance of this matchup for both sides. Beyond the obvious storylines surrounding the two star running backs, these are two rising teams trying to take the next step toward being a true contender.

Not that the Rams are allowing such thoughts to creep in their minds this week.

"I don’t think it’s a good idea for us to start looking into the future because when we do that, good things don’t happen for us," end William Hayes said. "We are just taking it one game at a time, every game is a playoff game, so I don’t think guys are really saying if we win these certain amount of games, we can possibly make it to the playoffs, you know? It’s all about Minnesota this week, and I don’t even know who we play next week."

The loser won't be eliminated and the winner won't have anything wrapped up. But there's no doubt that the team that comes out on top will be putting itself in a good position to keep playing meaningful games as the season continues.