The Minnesota Vikings sit at 4-5, and on the very edge of the Wild Card race. They've navigated the toughest portion of their schedule, and have seven games left, to include four divisional games remaining (two against Chicago, one each against Green Bay and Detroit).
There's little margin for error, and they're going to need to finish 10-6 to get a wildcard. There are plenty of articles out there telling you how the Vikings aren't going to make the playoffs. Most of those stories, using advanced statistical analysis, are very thorough. And it's also very convincing, and the results are all about the same, give or take.
For the Vikings, the playoffs essentially started last week, against the Washington Redskins. They don't have to win out, but their margin for error is very, very slim. When you look at the rest of the schedule, and then look at how the Vikings have been playing, you think o yourself 'yeah, they can do this'. So let's look at how they could possibly make it in, by breaking down the rest of the regular season schedule:
@Chicago: We've laid out what the Vikings need to do to beat Chicago, and this is their best opportunity to escape the Windy City with a win since 2009...and they couldn't get it done then. And let's face it, the Vikings have to beat the Bears to keep any chance at the post season alive. A loss puts them at 4-6, and no realistic shot.
Green Bay: The Vikings have been on the short end of the stick more often than not against Green Bay and Chicago in recent seasons, but I don't know if I was ever more dis-spirited than after the Thursday night debacle in Lambeau. In the wake of that disaster, the Vikings defense actually played a decent game, until the three and outs piled up by the offense just got to be too much. This is going to be one of the two toughest remaining opponents the Vikings face, and a win here would be huge. Can they do it? With Teddy Bridgewater, at home, I think they can.
I can't emphasize how big two division wins would be for the Vikings here. Not only for playoff positioning, but as a 'stand up and take notice that we're here to stay for awhile' kind of statement. We all want to beat the Packers, but if the Vikings are going to start their climb to the top of the NFC North and stay there, they have to start beating them. Starting that climb here would be fantastic.
Carolina: If I'm the Vikings defense, I can't wait to line up and get after Cam Newton. Carolina's o-line is a mess, their defense is bad, and it's a Southern team coming to a cold weather climate. As bad as a beating Newton has taken, he might not even make it to the Vikings game in one piece. I have this game pegged as a Vikings win.
New York Jets: Yeah, the Jets beat the Steelers, but as our Hall of Fame WR Cris Carter would say...c'mon, man. This game is a month from now, which means Michael Vick will be hurt, and it'll be the Geno Smith Turnover Machine and Travelling Vaudeville Show. The Jets are still terrible, and will still be terrible when they come to Minnesota. I've got this one in the win column.
@Detroit: Hey, remember when I said the Vikings could afford to lose one more game? Of the remaining games left, this is the most probable loss, followed by the Packers game. The Lions have the look and feel of the team that is going to win the NFC North, and they throttled the Vikings at the Bank earlier in the season. And they did it without Reggie Bush and Megatron. Yeah...Lions win.
@Miami: How are the Dolphins 6-4? Because they have stout defense, that's why. This is going to be a tough, low scoring game for the Purple and Gold, no doubt. It's on the road, and if I have my win-loss prediction, this will essentially be a playoff elimination game for both teams. The Legend Of Teddy Bridgewater starts here, somehow, someway.
Chicago: By this point I'm thinking the Bears head coach will be 'interim', Jay Cutler will have been burned in effigy so much in Chicagoland that the fires will be able to be seen from space with the naked eye, and Jared Allen will still only have two sacks. The DGAF will be high for the Bears, and the Vikings will need a win to clinch a playoff spot. Win, baby.
Why am I so optimistic? For one, the Vikings defense is legit, and is capable of keeping the Vikings in the game. Secondly, the Vikings have a very good running game, even without Adrian Peterson. They're 10th in the NFL running the ball, and NORV! Turner has a good feel of when and how to use Matt Asiata and Jerrick Mcknnon. Finally, the passing game is coming around. The offensive line play has been better, and Teddy Bridgewater has thrown for 240 and 268 yards in consecutive weeks, all while having a relatively clean pocket to set up and throw in.
It's happening a little bit later than I thought, but this team is starting to gel. I'll admit that the chances of running the table and getting into the playoffs are a longshot, but we all said the same thing in 2012, when the Vikings sat at 6-6 and had, arguably, a more daunting schedule in front of them. And inarguably a less talented team.
This team doesn't have as tough a schedule, and is better than that 2012 team.
Let's do this.