The Skol Debate: How Difficult Will the NFC Playoffs Be?

Cam Jordan Kirk Cousins
Dec 4, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

The NFC playoffs aren’t too off, folks.

Indeed, the majority of the season is now behind us, so it’s fair to start looking ahead to the season that arrives after the regular season passes. If things proceed as expected, Minnesota will be the #2 seed in the NFC, a strong spot that reflects their strong season.

What kind of competition will the team face in the NFC playoffs? Philadelphia is obviously a great team. Are there other teams the Vikings ought to worry about? K. Joudry and Josh Frey are back to offer their take on the matter. Take a peak at where they stand on the issue:

The Purple Corner: Josh Frey (The NFC is winnable!)
The Gold Corner: K. Joudry (Be nervous about the competition!)

With all that said, the debate.

What Kind of Competiton Will There be in the NFC Playoffs?

KJ: After Week 13, it’s a near certainty that the Minnesota Vikings will be a playoff team. In fact, a win over the once-lowly Lions in Week 14 would ensure Minnesota gets in as division winners. That’s a scenario we can all get on board with. 

Once there, what kind of competition will they face?

In many ways, the NFC has been a peculiar place in 2022. Coming into the year, I thought that the Rams, Bucs, and Packers were the top 3 teams in the conference. The Rams and Packers won’t even make the playoffs; if the Bucs do, it’ll be because their division is so poor. Strange times. 

A new hierarchy reigns. Atop the NFC – and the NFL as a whole – is Philadelphia, a team with one lonely blemish on its record. Minnesota comes in at 2nd overall. Behind them are a number of teams that are trying to put the finishing touches on a playoff-worthy season: 

  • 49ers, 8-4
  • Bucs, 6-6
  • Cowboys, 9-3
  • Giants, 7-4-1
  • Seahawks, 7-5
  • Commanders, 7-5-1

There is some great talent among these teams. Dallas, for instance, thoroughly demolished our friends in purple back in Week 11. 

With all that being said, Josh, let me kick it over. The majority of the season is behind us and the playoffs beckon. What kind of competition will Minnesota face once there? Will it be a difficult road?

JF: Of course, the deeper any team gets into the NFL playoffs, the more difficult their matchups become. That said, the Vikings road to the NFC Championship Game seems to be setting up as a much easier slate of games than the teams that they’ve lost to— the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles.

Namely, unless there is a wacky turn down the stretch of the regular season or in the Wild Card round, it appears that the Vikings may manage to avoid either of these formidable foes until that NFC Championship Game. 

As long as the Vikings hold onto the No. 2 seed in the NFC, they will match up with the No. 7 seed in the Wild Card round. Three obvious teams come to mind for this game:

  • New York Giants
  • Seattle Seahawks
  • Washington Commanders

Currently, the Vikings are slated to host the Seattle Seahawks. 

In that matchup, it would likely be a high scoring affair as the Seahawks and Vikings are both among the bottom three in terms of yards allowed, and the Seahawks are ranked 28th in points per game allowed. However, the Vikings defense has stepped up in situational football much more consistently than the Seahawks. I’d give the edge to the Vikings in that matchup. 

After that, if the No. 3 seed (likely to be the team that wins the NFC West) finds a way to win a home playoff game, they’d then have to go make the trek to Minnesota the following week. Right now, the 49ers lead the division by two games if you account for tiebreakers.

The 49ers are going into the rest of the season with Brock Purdy at QB after Jimmy Garoppolo suffered a foot injury (Jimmy G could make it back for the playoffs). If I’m a Vikings fan, I’d feel comfortable going into that game, despite a strong 49ers defense, especially if you look at what happens on the opposite side of the bracket.

If the playoff scenario plays out this way, the Dallas Cowboys have to go on the road and take on Tom Brady and the Buccaneers. While Tampa is certainly having a down year, Tom Brady has proven to be a constant threat if he gets into the playoffs. 

If Dallas wins that game, and the No. 3 seed wins their wild card matchup, that then sets up a Godzilla vs. King Kong matchup of the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles in the divisional round. 

If the Vikings can avoid facing either one of those teams before the NFC Championship Game, I’d consider that to be a massive win. So, I toss it back to you. Is that how you see things playing out in the NFC playoffs at this moment, or do you think a different scenario is more likely?

KJ: The scenario you outline makes a lot of sense. 

Like yourself, I see the Seattle outcome as a desirable one. The Seahawks won’t be pushovers. Their receiver pair makes me nervous, but there is very little chance of getting into a playoff matchup where the other side doesn’t present at least some threat. 

That being said, I’d find myself with some more uneasiness if, say, Washington snags the #7 spot. Their defensive front has the capacity to take over the game. When the two teams met earlier, the Commanders were operating without Chase Young. Re-adding him to the equation alongside Montez Sweat, Jonathan Allen, and Daron Payne would mean it could be a long day for Kevin O’Connell’s offense. 

If, however, we assume that the team finds a way to win their opening round, then a SF game does seem quite likely. Obviously, the 49ers have had some brutal luck at QB; losing Jimmy G takes the wind out of their sails.

Regardless of who is under center, the 49ers may be the favorites for that game. Their OT tandem – Trent Williams and Mike McGlinchey – is fantastic. Their collection of skill – Deebo Samuel, Christian McCaffrey, George Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk, Kyle Juszczyk – is second to none. That’s a group that will find a way to move the ball regardless of who is under center. Given the concerns for the Minnesota defense, I’d have a hard time being overly confident. 

Even more concerning, perhaps, is SF’s defense. Nick Bosa is now up to 14.5 sacks after piling up 3 in the most recent game. He’s someone who could plausibly take over the game. Right now, SF is first in the NFL on defense, allowing a modest 15.8 points per game

I see 3 teams that could plausibly be considered as the favorites for a playoff game: the Eagles, Cowboys, and 49ers. The first two teams have beaten them already and the final team is responsible for ending Minnesota’s most recent playoff run. Given this belief, I look at the upcoming NFC playoffs with some unease. 

You’ve already suggested you think SF won’t be the same without their QB. Do you see other ways that MN would have an edge in the playoffs over these teams? 

Jan 16, 2022; Arlington, Texas, USA; San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel (19) runs for a touchdown after catching a pass in the third quarter against the Dallas Cowboys in a NFC Wild Card playoff football game at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

JF: The biggest thing I’d point to in a potential matchup with the 49ers is that getting a home game against them will be key. Especially on defense, the 49ers have been a different beast in the Bay Area compared to when they have to travel. 

This is especially the case in the “situational” defensive spots. At home, they allow third down conversions at 35.38%, good for 11th in the NFL. On the other hand, opponents convert third downs at a 42.86% rate when SF is on the road, which ranks among the bottom 12. 

Then in the red zone, the home Niners allow touchdowns at just a 30.77% rate while on the road, they allow touchdowns on 76.92% of red zone drives, third-worst in the NFL. 

Of course, this hasn’t had much of an impact to this point in terms of counting stats (they allow 15.5 PPG in home games compared to 16.2 PPG in road games), but the 49ers have played extremely sub-par opponents in their road games so far. Through 13 weeks, San Fran’s road opponents have been:

  • Chicago Bears
  • Denver Broncos
  • Atlanta Falcons
  • Los Angeles Rams
  • Arizona Cardinals

Even still, they only have a 2-3 road record this season, losing against the Bears, Broncos, and Falcons. The discrepancy makes it imperative to me that the Vikings get this game at home as the 49ers have proven to be vulnerable on the road all season long. 

For Dallas and Philadelphia, the Vikings have oodles of bulletin board material because of their losses to these teams. It may seem silly, but this could certainly have an impact on the energy in these games. 

We’ve seen it happen over the years. I’d point to the 2020 season when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the New Orleans Saints on the road after losing their two regular season meetings by a combined score of 72-26. 

Additionally, especially against the Eagles, their defense has been off-and-on over the past few weeks. Prior to shutting down the Tennessee Titans in Week 13, they’d allowed an average of 27 PPG in their previous three games. 

Perhaps the Vikings won’t be favored in these games, but I’d be remiss not to give them a chance to win against any of these opponents.

So, I’ll turn it back to you to wrap things up. Do you see the Vikings having a decent chance of making the NFC Championship Game, or should we be concerned about the road?

KJ: In many ways, I think that’ll come down to how you define the word “decent.” Is it likely in the sense that it’ll almost certainly happen? By no means, and yet the path you lay out does seem plausible. In that sense, there is a decent chance. 

Perhaps it’s the purple past that’s speaking, but I do have lingering concerns about facing the 49ers. Nevertheless, your points are well taken. Playing at U.S. Bank Stadium will be hugely beneficial to Minnesota. It doesn’t guarantee anything, but it does give them a nice advantage. 

Getting to the NFC Championship game is certainly within the realm of possibility. If that occurs, it’s possible Minnesota needs to head back to Philly. They’d have the opportunity to get some revenge for the disastrous game following the 2017 season.

I, like many others, would be participating in plenty of consternation and hand-wringing. If, however, the Vikings pulled off the unlikely trip to the Super Bowl, then there would be jubilee as far as the eye can see.

Maybe this will be the year, Josh.

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