Black and Blue all over: Playoff scenarios

Week 12 gave us a little more clarity in the NFC North playoff race. With apologies to Chicago and Detroit, let’s break things down for our two postseason contenders.

Minnesota’s “magic number” is two. That means any combination of two victories by the Vikings and/or losses by the Packers will clinch the division title. The earliest the Vikings could clinch is a week from today, if they win at Arizona on Sunday night and the Packers lose to Baltimore on Monday night. Without help from the Packers, the earliest the Vikings could clinch is Dec. 13, with victories over Cardinals and then Cincinnati.

The Vikings also will be closely watching tonight’s game in New Orleans. A Saints loss to New England would drop them to 10-1 and bring them into a tie with the Vikings for the NFC’s top seed (and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs). “Hopefully they lose,” Vikings tight end Visanthe Shiancoe said.

If that happens, I’ll bring you the NFL’s tiebreaking procedures for such situations. But let’s not confuse things on a groggy Monday morning for all of us.

Meanwhile, Green Bay missed an opportunity to establish some distance in the wild-card race. Philadelphia’s victory over Washington allowed the Eagles to keep pace with the Packers at 7-4, and Atlanta’s dramatic victory over Tampa Bay kept it in the picture at 6-5. If the season had ended Sunday, Green Bay and Philadelphia would have been the NFC’s wild-card teams.

OK, thanks for paying attention. There will be a quiz a bit later. Now let’s take our morning spin around the division:

  • Mike Mulligan of the Chicago Sun-Times after the Bears’ 36-10 loss to Minnesota: “Jay Cutler looked a lot better on Sunday than he has virtually the whole season. He didn't play all that well, mind you, but he wore a coat and tie to the interview room after the game instead of retreating further and further under a baseball cap, as he has done after most games.”

  • Cutler’s postgame news conference was clipped, reports Jeff Dickerson of ESPN Chicago.

  • Rick Morrissey of the Chicago Tribune: “This was a first-hand glimpse of just how far the Bears are from true excellence. They looked at it up close and couldn't possibly have recognized themselves in what they saw from first-place Minnesota. They are not an offseason away from the 10-1 Vikings. They're a major rebuilding project away from the Vikings.”

  • Tom Powers of the St. Paul Pioneer Press on the performance of quarterback Brett Favre: “Cue the haunting theme from ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.’ Polish up the six-shooters. Sunday's game against the Chicago Bears could be subtitled ‘Return of the Gunslinger.’”

  • The Vikings ran a season-high 83 plays against Chicago, notes the Star Tribune.

  • Lori Nickel of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel profiles Green Bay receiver Greg Jennings, explaining why he always has to be right.

  • It’s going to take the Packers 10 victories this season to get into the playoffs, writes Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.

  • Good point from Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com: Through all of Detroit’s injuries at safety, they’ve never turned to veteran backup Anthony Henry.

  • The Lions are expected to sign rookie tight end Dan Gronkowski from the practice squad to replace starter Brandon Pettigrew, who is lost for the year with a knee injury. John Niyo of the Detroit News has more.