In many small Minnesota towns, one typical Sunday tradition won't happen. Another date-specific Sunday tradition will. For the Thanksgiving host families, the Hulk Hogan of turkeys must be taken out today to make sure its thawed enough by Thursday morning to hit the oven.
The Vikings were given the last week possible to have a bye. As a result, they're will have rest and tryptophan to deal with – not a bad combination all things considered in Week 11 of the NFL season. Then they head to Chicago to face a team who has a dazed and confused starting quarterback that collapsed under similar circumstances the last two years.
As Vikings fans pat themselves on the back for showing up to Thanksgiving dinner wearing their extra-stretchy pants, the table talk can be on the legitimate possibility that the Vikings could be a playoff team if they take care of their own business.
Given the slate of opponents the Vikings will face in the final six games – they may not be favored by the Outfit in Vegas the rest of the way – but it's there and it's not inconceivable that a playoff run could happen.
Ten wins in the 2012 NFC gets you in the playoffs. There's a very good chance that 9-7 will get you in, but that requires a guy named Poindexter to break down the myriad of plusses and minuses that come into play.
Here is a breakdown of the teams vying for the coveted six spots in the NFC playoff tournament – January Madness, if trademarks allow – to get to the Super Bowl. Half of the playoff pool has nothing to do with the NFC North. The other three division champs, regardless of record, get their hand stamped to enter the dance. There is a fair chance to believe that the NFC North could provide the other three entrants filling out their own dance card. A look at the road ahead can be table-talk fodder on Thursday, because, as it stands, things don't look too bad for the Vikes.
THE LONE LOCK
Atlanta Falcons (8-1) – The Falcons have four of their final seven games at home and the only teams they play in the final seven that have winning records are the Giants and the Buccaneers (twice). If they can simply go 4-3, they will lock down home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and there is little reason to think they won't win at least five of their final seven. The road to the Super Bowl will definitely go through Atlanta.
THE NFC EAST CHAMPION – The Giants (6-4) are the only team with a winning record, but have a gauntlet on their way to earning a shot at defending their Super Bowl title – Green Bay, at Washington, New Orleans, at Atlanta, at Baltimore and Philadelphia. You can't sleep on Dallas (4-5) because they have five of their next six games at home and they only face one team (Pittsburgh) in their final seven with a winning record. But, at 4-5, they don't have much margin for error from here on through. Anything less than five wins will likely eliminate them. The Eagles are in even worse shape. They're 3-6 after starting 3-1 (with their three wins by a combined total of four points). They've come crashing down to earth and haven't scored more than 24 points in any of their first nine games. They have dug themselves a tie-breaker hole (1-5 in the NFC) that will likely eliminate them unless they run the table. The Redskins were a fun story early, but, at 3-6, they're treading water. Only one team will come out of the NFC East.
THE TEAMS THAT WILL BE HARD TO CATCH
Chicago Bears (7-2) – The Bears often seem to win with smoke and mirrors, but, at 7-2, they're almost locked into a playoff spot. The weather at Soldier Field won't be an issue. They play three of their final four games on the road indoors and their only home game is against the Packers, who are no strangers to potentially tricky Great Lakes weather patterns in December. Their next five games are against teams with winning records, so we'll find out just how good the Bears really are. They have played only three teams that have a winning record and lost two of them – the only win coming against the Indianapolis Colts at home in Week 1. That may not bode well for Chicago, but, if they win four of their final seven games, they finish with a record of 11-5, which would likely be enough to win the NFC North, especially if they can beat Green Bay at home in Week 15.
Green Bay Packers (6-3) – The Packers are in much the same position as the Vikings. As they return from their bye week today, five of their final seven games are against teams from the NFC North. Four of their final seven games will be on the road – against all three division teams and the Giants. Even in a worst-case scenario, if the Packers finish 4-3 in their final seven games, they will have a 10-6 record and will make the playoffs.
San Francisco 49ers (6-2-1) – Any potential tie-breaker advantage the Vikings might have had with their win over the Niners pretty much evaporated with their tie last week with St. Louis. It was the first tie in the NFL in four years and both the Rams and Niners proved that Donovan McNabb wasn't as dumb as we all thought at the time – not that it made him any less dumb for not knowing overtime rules, but he could now prove others were as oblivious as him. With the tie, even worst-case scenarios for the 49ers don't involve a tie-breaker situation in which they could lose out to the Vikings.
THE TEAMS TO LEGITIMATELY BE WORRIED ABOUT
Seattle Seahawks (6-4) – The frenetic Seahawks have confounded conventional wisdom all season. At home, they're stone cold killers – beating the Cowboys, Packers, Patriots, Vikings and Jets (everybody beats the Jets, so they shouldn't count). On the road, it's a little different story. They're 1-4 with their only win a scintillating 14-12 nail-biter over hapless Carolina. The problem is that three of their final four games are at home – against the other three teams in the NFC West and the other being a road game at BCS-eligible Buffalo. Any wild card tie-breaker scenario involving Seattle is bad news for the Vikings.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-4) – Same scenario as Seattle. They beat the Vikings – at least Seattle did it on their home turf. The Bucs did it in Minnesota. If there has ever been a team that has done a 180-degree turn after its bye week, it's Tampa. With a record of 1-3 heading into the bye week, the Bucs were having a chalk outline traced around them. Since the break, they have a 4-1 record and have averaged 36 points a game. What? They have a minefield in front of them – four road games, two games with Atlanta and the Saints in the Big Easy. It won't be a cakewalk, but, thanks to their Thursday night win at the Metrodome, the Vikes have to finish a game better than the Bucs to make the playoffs.
THE WILD CARD IN THE WILD CARD CHASE
New Orleans Saints (4-5) – Like a cockroach that gets stepped on and darts off when you take the foot off its shell – the Saints just won't go away. The generous Saints defense has allowed 27 or more points to eight of nine opponents, letting the offense know it has to put up 35 points to win. The problem is that, while the Saints need to go 6-1 to make the playoffs, four of their next six games are away from home and include road trips to play the Falcons, Giants and Cowboys – all teams that will need wins as bad as Denny Green needs roomy slacks. They are the NFC's version of The Walking Dead – the phrase "I thought I was done with you" has been spoken more than once – at 0-4 and at 2-5, to be precise. Yet, their slow-walking zombie undead players keep shuffling toward their goal. In a town as steeped in respect of voodoo traditions, until the Saints decompose, they scare many of us. Like Louisiana politics ("as crooked as a dog's hind leg"), nothing is over until it's truly over … and not always then. Until fat guys with suspenders and umbrellas are dancing down Bourbon Street in a macabre local funeral tradition, as Terrell Owens would say, "get your shovels ready." Until they quit twitchin', don't engage the safety on your gun.
The bottom line on the Vikings' 2012 season is that they've got their fate in their own hands. Not many would have predicted that in August. They can get into the playoffs by imposing their will. They can get in by NFL Darwinism getting rid of the competition. They can get in by "chip and a chair" dumb luck. That fact is, they have several paths to the playoffs. It was either Friedrich Nietzsche or Larry the Cable Guy who said, "Git 'Ur Dun!" Not sure which of those two philosophers said it, but the sentiment rings true. It's there for the taking. Who's hungry?
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
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