The chase for the #1 seed in each conference is one of the most watched races that occur each year. Starting last year, the first seed has become increasingly more valuable since the team with the first seed is the only one that receives a first-round bye. This rule change meant that the second seed in each conference would have to play in the first round against the seventh seed. Currently, the Vikings own the second seed and could end up in the first seed or as low as the third seed. Each position will have certain advantages and disadvantages as we quickly approach the playoffs.
The first seed is not as glamorous as it may seem
The consensus around the rule change that took away the second seed’s bye was that the team with the top seed would have a huge advantage over the competition. However, that consensus was flipped on its head when both lost in their first games. The 2021 Tennessee Titans claimed the first seed and immediately fell to the eventual AFC champion Cincinnati Bengals while the Green Bay Packers also lost in the divisional round to the San Francisco 49ers. One could easily argue that the reason each of these teams was able to claim the top seed is because of a lack of competition within their divisions. Nevertheless, the trek to the top seed goes far beyond divisional games and both teams proved to have the talent and endurance to claim the first seed. Though it all ended up being for naught. The bye may seem like a great way for players to rest and get into a playoff mindset, but it seems like it may have some underlying drawbacks.
The Vikings are guaranteed one home playoff game. If by some miracle, the Vikings win out and the Eagles lose out, the team will secure the top seed. The first seed might be a disadvantage for this squad. This Vikings team is very volatile and relies a lot on momentum, if the team were to secure the top seed, the bye may kill any momentum the team would have while entering the playoffs. They would also be tasked with shaking the rust off quickly against an opponent that is already in a playoff mindset coming off a wildcard weekend win. That aspect cannot be overlooked, playing a team with that momentum is a huge disadvantage. This is why I think the second seed would be the best spot for the team to make a deep playoff run. It would give the Vikings the chance to play a game against the seventh seed in the NFC, a game where the team would have much more room for error if the team comes out of the gates slow. The third seed may not be ideal, but the same logic would apply and I think it would benefit the team’s chances at a deep run more than the first seed would.
If the playoffs started today, the Vikings would play wildcard weekend against the Washington Commanders. In week 9, the Vikings beat the Commanders 20-17 on the road. While not the most convincing victory (not that there are many on the Vikings’ resume this year), the Commanders have slowed down a bit since week 9 and are struggling to hold the seven seed, though they get Carson Wentz back this week. The Commanders would be a perfect matchup for the Vikings in the first round of the playoffs since the game would be at US Bank Stadium.
Other possible first-round matchups include the New York Giants (won 27-24 in week 16), the Seattle Seahawks (have not played), the Green Bay Packers (won 23-7 in week 1, play again this week), and the Detroit Lions (1-1 head to head). Of these options, the Packers seem like the most dangerous as they have gotten hot as of late, if the Vikings can win in Lambeau this week it would go a long way toward not seeing them in the playoffs. Vikings fans would rather not play the Seahawks in the wildcard round because it would certainly trigger some painful memories, though it would offer the opportunity to exorcise a demon named Blair Walsh.
Looking past wildcard weekend, it looks like the Vikings are on a collision course with the San Francisco 49ers. Winning these last two weeks of the season is crucial to ensuring that the Vikings get to play that hypothetical matchup at home. Then fans have to pray that the squad does not have to go to Philadelphia for the NFC championship because a repeat of the week 2 debacle feels much too likely. However, if it is not the Eagles then it will likely be the Cowboys and we all know how that already turned out. That is the nature of the playoffs though, the Vikings are going to have to find a way to win games against really good teams to make any sort of run.
With the playoffs looming, the Vikings need to stay focused on the week at hand and on beating their divisional rival Green Bay Packers in a game that has huge playoff implications. If they can then solidify the second seed in week 18 with a win over the Chicago Bears, the Vikings will have great momentum going into the postseason with home-field advantage in at least two games. Regardless of seeding and opponents this Vikings team is going to be tested in the playoffs and it will be very interesting (or painful) to see what results. The team has shown that it has the resilience it takes to pass those tests, they could be primed for a great postseason run, something every Vikings fan has been waiting for since 2018.