Last year, the Vikings had a ridiculously easy schedule, one of the main reasons that I thought they were going to make the playoffs. And they came pretty close (something no one seems to be mentioning--one more touchdown at San Fransisco and one more field goal against Green Bay, and they would have made it). This year, they have the 21st easiest schedule, according to Football Outsiders, with their projected opponents averaging a -2.1% DVOA. In comparison, the hardest schedule in the NFL belongs to Buffalo, whose opponents average DVOA is 8.6%. So that bodes well.
As we saw last year, however, just having an easy schedule isn't enough. The Vikings have to get to nine wins to assure themselves a spot in the postseason. Luckily for the Vikings, there schedule is easy because it's relatively extreme, with both good and bad teams on it, rather then full of teams competing for the last spot in the playoffs.
I've sorted the Vikings' schedule into four groups, using Football Outsiders' Mean Win projection for each team and whether it's at the Dome or on the road. The groups are games the Vikings "Must Win", "Should Win", "Can Win" and "Might Win" and each team is followed by their mean win projection and the week in which they square off against the Vikings.
|Must Win||3 -1||Should Win||3 - 1|
|2 - 2||Might Win||1 - 3|
|@ KC||5.2 ||Wk 3||ATL||7.6||Wk 1||SD||8.6||Wk 9||GB||9.5||Wk 4|
|@ DAL||6.4||Wk 7||@ DET||7.1 ||Wk 2||CHI||8.3||Wk 15||@ DEN||8.7||Wk 17|
|OAK||6.5||Wk 11||@ NYG||7||Wk 12||@ SF||8.1||Wk 14 ||@ GB||9.5||Wk 4|
|DET||7.1||Wk 13||WAS||8.2||Wk 16||@ CHI||8.3||Wk 6||PHI||11||Wk 8|
To the left of each group name is the record the Vikings should post against that group in order to reach 9-7 and the promised land of the playoffs. Obviously, the 3-1 record in the "Must Win" games seems to contradict the group name, but it takes into account a Vikings dropping a game they shouldn't, something I'm more certain of then anything else.
The schedule also works out nicely for the Vikings in that six of their eight easy games are against NFC teams, giving them an easy path to a winning conference record, an important tie breaker in the fight for the last Wild Card berth. What isn't so good, however, is the fact that all four games against Chicago and Green Bay fall on the wrong side of the easy-hard divide. As the NFC East demonstrated last year, however, three teams from a conference can make the playoffs, with 9-7 Cowboys and the 8-8 Giants filling the two Wild Card spots.
And so, once again, the Vikings' schedule gives them a great shot at the playoffs, with more then enough winnable games. We'll have to wait to see whether or not they'll be able to seize the opportunity this year, or if they'll fall short again, but not too long--only until Sunday.