As the Vikings go their separate ways this week over their bye week, the importance of their win over the Detroit Lions can't be overestimated. Just as Week 9 was devastating for the Vikings – losing to Seattle and falling behind them in the playoff chase while all three division rivals won – just the opposite took place in Week 10.
Not only did the Vikings win, but they effectively buried Detroit – sweeping their season series – but all the teams viewed as playoff locks also got beat. Chicago didn't get the defensive/special teams touchdown they always seem to need to win a close game and fell to the Houston Texans at home in a bad-weather game that typically seems to be tailor made for a win. San Francisco tied at home against an upstart St. Louis team that had the worst record in the NFC last year. The undefeated Falcons had the Saints on the ropes and could have delivered the knockout punch that would have ended their season. Instead, they allowed Drew Brees to throw three touchdowns in a 31-27 loss. The NFC East-leading Giants got hammered by the Cincinnati Bengals and suddenly look extremely vulnerable.
At a time when the Vikings were winning, the elite teams in the NFC – all four division leaders – went down to defeat, showing that there isn't a head and shoulders dominant team in the NFL this season. For the Vikings, that's means they are in the thick of playoff contention.
"The one thing we tried to do early on was articulate what our goals were as a football team. We did that back in training camp - these are what our goals are and we talked about that," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "We haven't deviated from that. That being said, in our league it's always about one game at a time and the most important game for us is our game about a week from now against Chicago. That's the most important game. But our goals, they haven't changed coming out of training camp."
Atlanta has the best record in the league, but needed a pair of late comebacks against teams that weren't viewed as being elite to keep their perfect record in place before losing to the 3-5 Saints. The Bears could manage just six points against Houston, and when Jay Cutler left the game with an injury the offense collapsed like it did last year when he went down. The 49ers have now lost two games to teams that lost 13 or more games last season. The Giants head into their bye week having lost two straight and look extremely beatable both at home and on the road.
At the same time that all of the top teams (except Green Bay, which was on its bye week) in the NFC lost, the Vikings made a statement that they're in the mix as well with a convincing win over Detroit. Considering that Seattle and Tampa Bay, which got the Vikings on their recent slide, also won, suddenly there is a glut of teams sitting at 6-4 or 5-4 and positioning themselves for a late-season run.
The Vikings are definitely included in that group following Sunday's win. They face some long odds, but it would seem they have a chip on their shoulder. During the week leading up to the game, the Vikings came a bit short of calling Sunday's game a must-win type, but the reality is that it was almost the definition of "must-win." Had the Vikings headed into their bye week on a three-game losing streak, the season may have gone in the tank before they faced their grueling closing six games. But Chad Greenway seemed to sum up the feelings of the players when asked if the Vikings can compete with teams like the Packers and Bears.
"Why not? Absolutely," Greenway said. "I think at this point we've all realized in this locker room that we have nothing to lose. We've got to play that way. We've got to coach that way. Nobody gave us a chance to start the season. We've played some really good football. We've played some really bad football. We know that really good football will get us where we want to go to earlier than everybody thought. If we can play that way – just say, ‘You know what? Nobody gives a (expletive) about us' – if we just go play and do our thing, we're going to be fine. That's really how our mentality has to be. The less we care about outside stuff, the better of we're going to be."
The Vikings still face some heavy challenges to get to the playoffs, but they have positioned themselves to control their own destiny. They have six games to play and will likely have to win four of them to lock down a playoff spot. But, if you had asked anyone outside of the Vikings locker room at the start of the season whether the Vikings would be in a spot where they can control their own playoff fate when they hit their bye week, you wouldn't have had many takers. The fact is they are in that position and, as Brian Robison is wont to say, that's the bottom line. As they heal up and recharge their batteries, they have put themselves in position to make a legitimate playoff run. Who would have imagined that at the start of the season?
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.