The Vikings technically have been in the middle of "playoff football" for the last three weeks and, through three games, so far so good. But the work isn't done yet.
A lot of good things happened for the Vikings Sunday, thanks to Baltimore and New Orleans knocking off the NFC East teams and, in the process, the Vikings have assured themselves that their playoff destiny is now in their own hands. Coming into Sunday's games, there was the potential that the Vikings could have won their last two games and still missed the playoffs. Now, it's a simple case of win-and-in for the Vikings.
However, there is a complicated scenario in which the Vikings could make the playoffs even if they lose to the Packers, but it would take a lot of help to get that done.
For the Vikings to get in at 9-7, it would require Chicago to lose on the road against Detroit, Dallas to lose at Washington and the Giants to lose at home against the Eagles. One of those is very possible. Two of those scenarios are less likely. All three? That would require a lot of luck, prayer and clean living.
The Vikings have been fighting an uphill battle for the last month, knowing that one more loss would likely bring an end to their improbable playoff dream. When they lost to the Packers on Dec. 2, things looked dire for the Vikings to claw their way back into the playoff picture. At the time, there were several scenarios in which they could potentially win all four of their remaining games and still miss out on the postseason dance. Instead, they now are in control of their own playoff fate for the first time since Thanksgiving.
It's been a long, hard road for the Vikings to get to this point, but, after three straight wins, they have put themselves in a realistic position to make the postseason – something even die-hard Vikings fans would have viewed as a long shot the first week of December.
The odds are that, if the Vikings do make the playoffs by beating the Packers, they would travel to Green Bay for a rematch the following week. The Packers currently hold the No. 2 seed, but, if they lose and either San Francisco or Seattle wins, the best the Packers could finish is with the No. 3 seed. Suffice it to say, the Packers have plenty to play for Sunday aside from simply knocking the Vikings out of the playoffs.
The pounding the Seahawks laid on the 49ers Sunday night kept the NFC West title up for grabs. San Francisco still holds a half-game lead over Seattle and both will close out their regular season at home – the 49ers hosting hapless Arizona and the Seahawks hosting the Rams. If either of those teams win and the Packers lose, the NFC West winner will lock down the second seed in the NFC playoffs.
For those wondering how the Vikings won't have their loss to the Redskins factor into to any tie-breaker scenarios, if the Vikings win and Washington loses, the Vikings would finish a game ahead of the Redskins. If both teams lose, the Vikings would be eliminated from playoff contention regardless – whether Washington, Chicago or the Giants land the final wild card spot.
The six playoff teams in the AFC are now set with Cincinnati locking down the last wild card spot and the Ravens clinching the AFC North title, but, thanks to the Vikings, the Houston Texans could be in a world of hurt. Houston had the opportunity to clinch the No. 1 seed in the AFC with a win over the Vikes, but their loss could have huge implications. They have to go into Indianapolis (10-5) Sunday and defeat the Colts – something they have never done in franchise history – to maintain their No. 1 seed. If they lose, they could drop all the way down to the No. 3 seed if Denver wins at home against Kansas City and New England wins at home against Miami.
There is a possibility that the Bears could finish 10-6 and not make the playoffs if the Vikings win Sunday.
For those wondering why Arian Foster was out of the game in the second half, it wasn't because he had just 15 yards on 10 carries. He began suffering an irregular heartbeat – a condition he has sustained during games before – and was taken out as a precaution. Given that he is one of the elite goal-line runners in the league, one can only assume that, despite a lackluster performance Sunday, he would have been in when the Texans got to the 1-yard line and failed to get a touchdown thanks to a goal-line stand by the Vikings. On numerous occasions during the season, the Texans have run Foster three times at the stripe in similar situations.
You have to give the NFL credit for creating drama with its scheduling. The league flexed out three games from the early slate of games Sunday, moving the Vikings-Packers and Patriots-Dolphins to 3:25 Central Time starts and pushing the NFC East championship game between Dallas and Washington to Sunday night. By doing so, the league took away the potential of playoff teams resting their starters if they knew their fate. By putting New England and Denver both in the late games, they assured that those games will both have meaning. The same goes for the Packers, San Francisco and Seattle – all of whom will be battling for the No. 2 seed in the NFC. It made sense to put Dallas and Washington in the prime time game because their winner will be the No. 4 seed and knowing the results of the other NFC games won't impact the result of their game.
Blair Walsh has played just 15 NFL games, but he already holds two of the three longest field goals in the history of the franchise. He tied the record long field goal of 56 yards set by Paul Edinger in 2005 and also made a 55-yarder in his NFL debut Sept. 9 against Jacksonville.
Walsh is three field goals short of the franchise record for most field goals in a season. He has 32 and trails only Fuad Reveiz (34 in 1994) and Gary Anderson's perfect 1998 regular season when he made 35 of 35 field goals.
Although he didn't rush for 100 yards this week, there are only seven entrants ahead of Adrian Peterson for single-season rushing yardage. With 1,898 yards, he needs 37 to pass Earl Campbell (1980) in seventh place, 106 to pass O.J. Simpson (1973), 109 to pass Chris Johnson (2009), 111 to pass Terrell Davis (1998), 156 to pass Barry Sanders (1997), 169 to pass Jamaal Lewis (2003) and 208 to pass Eric Dickerson (1984) for the top spot.
It should be noted that if Peterson can duplicate the numbers he put up against the Packers in their first meeting at Lambeau Field (210 yards), he will finish the season with 2,108 rushing yards and will hold the record.
Kyle Rudolph caught his ninth touchdown pass, moving him into second place in terms of touchdowns by a Vikings tight end in a single season. Visanthe Shiancoe holds the franchise record with 11 in 2009. Rudolph has nine.
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.
The Vikings have turned things around over the last month, but they will need a fourth consecutive win to assure a playoff berth. Meanwhile, many of the other Week 17 games will also hold playoff significance.
The Vikings will need to stay hot for a fourth consecutive win to assure a playoff berth.