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Yes, the 49ers will closely be watching Monday night’s Vikings-Seahawks game, for obvious reasons. But the Packers will closely be watching the game as well, for slightly less obvious reasons.
If the Vikings lose to Seattle on Monday night, the Packers will have a clear and easy path to the NFC North title.
It would give Green Bay a one-game lead, with four to play. And even if the Vikings beat Green Bay three weeks from tonight in Minnesota, the Packers would win the division by beating Washington this week, the Bears next week, and the Lions in Week 17 — even if the Vikings otherwise run the table.
Under that scenario, the 12-4 Packers would take the division from the 12-4 Vikings based on the better division record (5-1 vs. 4-2), relegating Minnesota to the sixth seed and a potential reprise of the Vikings at Packers wild-card game from seven years ago.
If the Vikings somehow win tonight, that all changes. The Vikings would then be wins over the Lions, Chargers, Packers, and Bears away from a division championship, a 13-3 record, possibly a bye, and maybe (depending on how everything else shakes out) the No. 1 seed.
It underscores the significance of Monday night’s game and the wide-open nature of the top of the NFC. Although the five playoff teams other than the none-of-the-above NFC East champion seem to be coming into focus, seeding will be critical. And most of it remains to be determined.