For all intents and purposes, the playoffs begin for the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday. That seems like kind of an incredulous statement with 6 games remaining, but let's consider some things as the Purple and Gold head to Soldier Field.
In the NFC North, the only team the Viking are ahead of are the fading Detroit Lions. Green Bay and Chicago are 7-3, but the Vikes still have two games each against those teams. If they sweep those games, that's 10 wins and an almost guaranteed playoff spot. Go 2-2 in those games, the Vikings will have to beat Houston and St. Louis, both on the road, to get to that 10 win threshold. With this team, that seems almost like a bridge too far, but not out of the realm of possibility.
This game against the Bears on Sunday provides the Vikings a golden opportunity. The Bears are reeling--Jay Cutler is still suffering from a concussion he received two weeks ago, and might not play. The Bears might hold him out anyway, because their offensive line is such a mess they were signing random people out of the Black Friday lines on Michigan Avenue to suit up. The script for beating the Bears is simple--don't beat yourself. Don't turn the ball over, don't give them a short field, and win the time of possession battle. For the most part, the Vikings are good at doing that. But when they fail at doing that, they fail spectacularly. I expect a large dose of Adrian Peterson and Kyle Rudolph on Sunday.
A win against the Bears Sunday puts them at 7-4 and in the driver's seat for either the division or first wild card slot. They cannot afford to lose what is a very, very winnable game.
Right now, there are three teams at the #6 and final playoff spot in the NFC--The Vikings, Seattle, and Tampa Bay. As you may recall, the Vikings lost to both teams earlier in the season in particularly brutal fashion. That puts even more importance on Sunday's game for potential playoff positioning--the Seahawks play a very beatable Miami team, but Tampa Bay heads to 9-1 Atlanta. Let's go with the senario that the Vikings beat the Bears, Seattle beats Miami, and Atlanta tops Tampa Bay. That puts Minnesota, Chicago, and Seattle at 7-4, and the Vikings have one of the two wildcard slots. It also puts the Vikings 3-0 in the division, which is huge.
They would also be 7-4 heading into Green Bay next week. And at 7-3, the Packers have a tough Sunday night game against the Giants in New Jersey, which is now deep in the neart of Big Ten country. (Oops, sorry. Blog bleed over, my bad). Let's add to our above scenario and put the Packers losing to New York, essentially putting the Vikings in a three way tie atop the North heading to Lambeau. If, and I realize it's a big if...but if the Vikings can go on the road and beat Chicago and Green Bay, Minnesota is 8-4, with tiebreakers over both teams. And then Chicago comes to town in three weeks, and the Vikings will have an opportunity to essntially knock them out of the NFC North title race.
This is the biggest three week stretch of football for the Minnesota Vikings since the 2009 season. Over the first 10 games, they have shown they can be one of the most fundamentally sound football teams in the NFL to give believers hope that they can come through this stretch unscathed--but they have also shown some vulnerabilities that give plenty of ammunition to skeptics that think this is the Vikings swan song, and 0-3 is a foregone conclusion.
At the beginning of the year, I said that if the Vikings could get to this point at 7-3 or 6-4, they would have a real chance to get to the playoffs, because they would, in large part, control their own destiny. They have done that, and what many people thought was fantasy back in August is now a distinct possibility.
Win these three games, and the Vikings are going to the playoffs. Win 2 of three, and they are an odds on favorite for going. Lose 2 or get swept, and it's over. It's that simple.
It's time to go ashore and burn the boats. Skol Vikings.