The Vikings feel like they are back in the hunt for a playoff spot, but their journey there won't be an easy one.
Over the next six games, the Vikings play three games against division leaders (Chicago twice and Houston once), two against the Green Bay Packers (who are 7-3 and in second place in the NFC North), and the St. Louis Rams, the only supposed respite on the schedule with a 3-6 record right now. Minnesota's final four opponents have a combined record of 26-12, with three of the four on track to the make the playoffs.
Meanwhile, if the playoffs started today, the Vikings would be out of the postseason. They are currently seeded eighth in the six-team playoffs because they lost head-to-head games with Seattle (the NFC's projected sixth seed right now) and Tampa Bay (seventh).
The Vikings play the Bears on Sunday and at least have one thing in their favor: The Bears will be coming off five days rest after playing San Francisco on Monday Night Football and the Vikings will have 13 days of rest coming off their bye week.
But if Chicago loses to San Francisco Monday night, the Vikings will be only one game behind the Bears and Packers, with two games against each the teams above them in the NFC North division.
"We'll control our own destiny. I think no matter if (the Bears) win or lose tonight, if we beat them and handle what we're supposed to, then all that stuff will be in our hands," quarterback Christian Ponder
said. "But it would help if they lose tonight."
Either way, it won't be an easy task Sunday in Chicago.
The Vikings' longest road losing streak in the division comes against the Bears. The Vikings haven't won in Chicago since 2007, a 34-31 win. Since then, they have suffered a 48-41 loss in 2008, a 36-30 overtime loss in 2009, a 27-13 loss in 2010 and a 39-10 drumming last year in Soldier Field.
"We get up in there, first half seems to be a blitzkrieg of crap not going our way," defensive end Jared Allen
said of playing in Chicago. "And we scratch our way back into it in the second half and we give up another big play to put it out of reach. So, we have to be consistent. We have to go there and stop the run. We can't allow them to run all that stuff."
The Vikings will watch Monday's game between the Bears and 49ers with interest, but Chicago will have backup Jason Campbell
under center because starter Jay Cutler
is dealing with the effects of another concussion.
"It definitely makes a difference for a lot of reasons. You are trying to look at the tape that you have for that particular team," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "The quarterback position is so, so important, it changes sometimes the play-caller's mindset as to how they run the offense. So we'll get a feel tonight for Jason Campbell and how the Bears will construct a game plan for him versus when Jay Cutler's in there. But how that helps us going forward is hard to say but we won't know probably for a while who is going to be the starter, I would imagine."
Since that 2007 win at Soldier Field, the Vikings have lost by an average score of 37.5-23.5 in Chicago. To put that in perspective, only eight of the 53 players on Minnesota's roster have experienced a Vikings win in Chicago.
"I think they're obviously a good team to begin with, but they play extremely well there," said Allen, who has never won at Chicago as a member of the Vikings. "It just seems to be the same story when we go there. The first half is a storm we're trying to weather, and the second half we come out and scratch back into it – in 2009 we brought it to overtime. … Whatever it is, you need to be aware of it, and focus on, oh, hey, this is how things have gone, and let's change things around here. Let's go out there and get out of the gates. We can't mess around, can't allow their defense to make huge plays, can't allow their offense to just grind us out.
"It's going to be one of those games. It's going to be a hard-fought division rivalry. Both teams have a lot riding on it."
The Vikings have the 20th-ranked offense in the league (3rd rushing, 30th passing) and 13th-ranked defense (14th and 16th).
The Vikings are minus-4 in their turnover battle for the season, ranked 23rd in that category. Chicago is second at plus-14.
Adrian Peterson maintained a sizeable lead in the rushing title, with no player within 100 yards. He has 1,128 yards rushing this season, with Seattle's Marshawn Lynch at 1,005 and Tampa Bay's Doug Martin is at 1,000 – the only two other players in quadruple digits.
Peterson's 44 points scored is tied for ninth among non-kickers.
Despite having the leader rusher in the NFL, the Vikings are only 23rd on first-down gains, averaging 4.97 yards on 280 first downs.
The Vikings defense is sixth in that category, allowing 5.01 yards per first-down play.
Peterson is second in net yards from scrimmage with 1,283 (1,128 rushing and 155 receiving). Martin has 1,319 (1,000 rushing and 319 receiving).
Peterson is third in the league with 55 first downs, trailing Houston's Arian Foster (59) and New England's Stevan Ridley (58).
With two weeks off – out with an injured ankle eight days ago and a bye this past weekend – Percy Harvin fell to eighth in the NFL with 62 receptions. Indianapolis' Reggie Wayne now leads the league with 76 catches for 1,003 yards.
Allen, the defending NFL sacks champ, has only seven so far this year while NFL leader Von Miller of Denver has almost twice as many, 13. Allen is tied for 13th in the NFL.
Chicago's Tim Jennings has eight interceptions entering Monday night's game. As a team, the Vikings are ranked 30th in interceptions per pass play.
Christian Ponder said he tried to get away from football altogether over the bye week, but had his iPad, which has film loaded onto it, with him.
Allen has dealt with shoulder, neck and groin injuries this season and, while the bye helped, it by no means put him back to 100 percent.
"No, not at all. Not even close. I'm probably 75 (percent)," Allen said. "But, you just work through it. Nobody is 100 percent this time of year."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.