There are times when you have to ask yourself whether, in order to properly understand the current playoff scenarios, is it better to have a cup of coffee to sharpen your senses or to just head the liquor cabinet and fill your coffee cup with a stronger alternative?
It isn't easy to comprehend the labyrinth of potential postseason scenarios, because there are still six teams fighting for three spots in the NFC postseason dance.
As things currently stand, the Vikings are in the playoffs. They are currently the No. 6 seed, having supplanted the Bears in that position. Yet, there is a scenario under which the Vikings could win their final two games and still miss out on the playoffs.
Two weeks ago, given the Vikings' crippled position with a 4-5 conference record and losses to fellow wild card running mates Seattle, Chicago, Washington and Tampa Bay, it appeared all the cards were against them. While admirable, considering their 2011 season, the Vikings' 6-6 run was going to have the curtain close and be viewed in January as a step in the right direction. Nine days ago against Chicago was supposed to be the pin that popped the Minnesota balloon of faith.
Instead, the Vikings not only beat the Bears, they crushed the Bears. The Vikings were up 14-0 six minutes and change into the game and Chicago never gave anyone the impression it was going to make a stand to come back. The Rams were dead by halftime. Suddenly the Vikings have the look of a playoff team. And, if the playoffs were to start today, the Vikings would be in – heading to play a familiar autumn opponent, but not an official winter one – the Packers at Lambeau Field.
But the last time a team's record after 14 games mattered was in 1977 – a time when the Vikings routinely made the postseason after a 14-game regular season. That was when Brett Favre was in short pants. For the last 35 years, it's the record after 16 games that cashes in at the pay window.
In the hypothetical world in which the sports media has its mail delivered, if the NFC playoffs started today, the Vikings would head to Green Bay (the No. 3 seed in the NFC), Seattle (No. 5) would travel to Washington (No. 4) and Atlanta and San Francisco, as the top two seeds, would be on bye. For the record, in the AFC, Houston and Denver would have byes and New England would host No. 6 Cincinnati while No. 4 Baltimore would host Indianapolis.
It would seem logical that, currently seeded No. 6, the Vikings would be able to control their own destiny and hold their spot. As fans of the hard-sliding Bears would surely say, "Not so fast, my friend."
The sins of the Vikings' past still haunt them. Pete Carroll is rolling up scores like he's coaching USC in the non-conference portion of its schedule. With nine wins already in the bank, the Seahawks have to lose both of their remaining games for the Vikings to overtake them. With both games at home, that's a big "if." Washington is now the 14-game leader of the NFC East. If they end up back in the wild card hunt, its win over the Vikings would be crippling.
The new wild card in the wild card chase is the defending champion Giants. A doomsday scenario for the currently-sixth-seeded Vikings would come to fruition. If Seattle wins one of its final two games (at home vs. San Francisco and St. Louis) and both Washington and the Giants win their remaining two games (Washington at Philadelphia and at home vs. Dallas, and New York at Baltimore and at home vs. Philly), the Vikings could finish 10-6 and still be on the outside looking in on the playoffs.
In this Ground Zero outcome, the Redskins would win the NFC East divisional crown at 10-6 and, because of a better conference record, the defending champion Giants could oust the Vikings.
We won't even get into the Plan B scorched-earth scenario in which Dallas controls its own playoff destiny while the Vikings don't – even though the Vikings are currently the second wild card in the NFC and Dallas is on the outside getting their playoff popcorn ready.
Today is a day for celebration for Vikings fans. If Adrian Peterson doesn't win at least a (wink-wink) share of the Most Valuable Player Award, the award itself should be exposed as fraudulent and changed to the MVQB Award. As things stand right now, the Vikings are in the playoffs. A lot may change over the next two weeks, but, for Vikings fans, their holiday present (in the present) has come early.
Who would have predicted that Christmas procrastinators could discuss Vikings playoff hopes in the checkout line at local box stores? Yet, it's here. Regardless of the outcome, as we sit today, the Vikings are in.
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.