That changed this weekend. Week 13 was unlucky as it could get as far as the Vikings playoff hopes went.
Last week, the "what if" department pointed out that, had the Vikings beaten Chicago, they would have been in first place in the NFC North by virtue of division record. Clearly the "what if" department deals in hypothetical situations. The Vikings weren't in first place in the NFC North last Monday, but, the way the rest of the games turned out, the only team they lost ground to was the Bears and that was the one team they had control in determining their outcome.
Week 13 was a different story. The Vikings entered the game with the understanding that if they beat the Packers they would have the tie-breaker edge over them at 7-5 with their head-to-head win against them (a road win, no less). Adrian Peterson did his part. A.P. became the 60th running back since the start of the 2000 season to rush for 200 or more yards in a game. The other 59 had a combined record of 57-2 in those games. Peterson became just the third player to lose a game when a running back went off for 200 or more rushing yards. The improbable loss – the win rate prior to Sunday was 96.6 percent – couldn't have come at a worse time.
Combined with Seattle's road win at Chicago – a worst-case scenario for the Vikings – the Packers are now technically in first place in the NFC North at 8-4, but are still tied with the Bears. Chicago is now a wild card team, along with Seattle (which is 7-5). The fact that teams like Dallas and St. Louis won is really irrelevant at this point. Seattle, Chicago and Green Bay are the only three teams the Vikings have to worry about. They're the three teams in front of them and the three teams holding the spot the Vikings covet.
Any Vikings fan already knows where this is heading. Those three teams all have something in common. They have all beaten the Vikings already. The Vikings still have home games with both the Bears and Packers, so, in the head-to-head sense, they can still negate their current deficit. But, even with that being accomplished – and that's a long shot at best – the Packers are 3-0 in the division and would retain a divisional advantage on the Vikings barring a home loss against Detroit (a team eminently beatable the last month) next week.
But perhaps most troubling for Vikings fans is the Seahawks. Seattle is a different team at home than it is on the road. Three of their remaining four games are at home – all against NFC West opponents. Given that their lone road game is against Buffalo, which is below .500 and out of playoff contention, it wouldn't be unreasonable to consider that the Seahawks will win two of their final four games at a minimum.
If that happens, Seattle will finish 9-7 with a tie-breaker edge on the Vikings. Even worse is the scenario under which the Packers and Bears match up with the Vikings. Both currently hold tie-breaker advantages on the Vikings and, with a two-game lead with four to play under such circumstances, if they go 2-2, the Vikings will have to run the table and have one or the other lose at least two, if not three, of their final four games.
Had Chicago beaten Seattle, the Vikings' playoff prospects would have been greatly improved. There would have been a clot of teams at 6-6 (Minnesota, Seattle, Dallas, Tampa Bay and potentially Washington after the Monday night game). Instead, Seattle in currently entrenched in the second wild card spot and the Vikings are a game behind them with a loss in hand.
The conventional wisdom was that, two weeks ago, the Vikings were due for two losses on the road at Chicago and Green Bay. The conventional wisdom has come true – although both losses were games the Vikings handed away as opposed to having them taken from them by a superior, dominant team.
As it stands, if the Vikings are to make the playoffs at this point, it will require them running the table. 9-7 may very well be enough to make the NFC playoffs, but, considering who they're chasing, the Vikings won't be a 9-7 team that emerges into the postseason. For them to make it, mathematics alone says they will have to be 10-6. Considering they're 6-6 now, a child can do the math on that.
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.