The first five spots in the NFC playoff picture are basically settled. Barring something truly catastrophic, we know the 8-3 San Francisco 49ers and 8-3 Detroit Lions are getting into the NFL postseason, almost surely as division champs. The 10-1 Philadelphia Eagles and 8-3 Dallas Cowboys are getting in -- one will be the NFC East champion, and the other will likely be the top wild-card team and 5-seed in the conference. Some team, by law, has to win the NFC South. Right now, that's the 5-6 Atlanta Falcons. That's five spots spoken for in the bracket.
The other two spots? Those are going down to the wire. There are six teams with a realistic chance of landing one of those two wild-card berths, with ESPN's Football Power Index (FPI) giving them somewhere between a 20% and 60% chance of playing postseason football. Each of these teams can look at their future schedule and plot out a believable path toward the playoffs.
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Let's take a look at those six teams and their chances of landing one of those two wild-card spots with six weeks of football to go. I'll provide the FPI projection for each team's chances of making it to the postseason and advancing, specifically, by earning a wild-card berth. Consider this a look at what has happened so far and a breakdown of what needs to happen for these teams to achieve their goal of advancing out of the regular season.
We'll go in order of the chances to make the playoffs, starting with a team in the NFC North:
1. Minnesota Vikings (6-6)
Chances to make the playoffs: 58.5%
Chances of being a wild-card team: 46.9%
There are no half measures with the Vikings. After going 11-0 in games decided by eight points or fewer last season, they started this season by losing four of their first five games, all within that eight-point margin. They followed that up by winning five straight games, four of which were by eight points or fewer, even while losing quarterback Kirk Cousins to a season-ending Achilles tear. They've promptly followed that up by losing two games to scores in the final two minutes by a combined three points, including Monday's 12-10 defeat to the Bears.
In all, the Vikings are probably about where they should be. They're 5-6 in those eight-point games and have won their only game that was decided by more than eight, a 14-point win over the Packers (in Week 8) during the game Cousins was injured. Last season, play-by-play metrics such as DVOA had them as a below-average team with incredible luck. This season, DVOA sees them as an average team with below-average luck, most notably in recovering just 16 of the whopping 41 fumbles in their games so far. That gap was more significant during the 1-4 start, but Minnesota is about five fumble recoveries below expectation this season, which is just bad luck.
The 2022 team was impressive on offense, but its defense was a sieve. What coordinator Brian Flores has done to turn it around has been remarkable. The Vikings got off to a slow start, but from Week 4 on, they've ranked as the league's fourth-best defense by expected points added (EPA), just ahead of the solid Jets and 49ers units. Flores' pass defense has ranked second in QBR allowed, and while he has blitzed at the highest rate, the Vikings have been the second-best pass defense when they rush four or fewer, too.