Weekend falls Vikings' way in NFC

The Vikings didn't fall too far behind in the NFC North, and around the conference things took mostly a Vikings bounce. The prospects for the playoffs were aided a bit but an uneven Sunday.

As the Vikings get back to work today after having their bye week, they come back with a little extra incentive. In the course of one day, the complexion of the NFC took on a much different tone.

The Vikings will be trying to make up for a 1-2 start to the 2010 season, and their chances of making playoffs improved dramatically Sunday. Teams that had a chance to assert themselves with wins Sunday – the Bears, the Eagles and Seahawks – all fell flat. A pair of other teams viewed as legitimate playoff contenders – Carolina and San Francisco – all fell to 0-4.

The biggest news for the Vikings came out of the Sunday night game, where the Bears lost their first game of the season and provided the rest of the league with a blueprint of how to frustrate and dominate their offense. The Bears surrendered 10 sacks to the Giants and their quarterbacks took such a beating that, by the fourth quarter, Chicago was down to its third quarterback – Caleb Hanie.

Starter Jay Cutler went down in the first half after taking a pounding and, given the league's much stronger stance on concussions, his availability for the next game for the Bears at Carolina is in jeopardy. Sunday's loss was such a lopsided domination that it exposed the Bears as a team that plays close to the vest and needs game-changing plays from its defense or special teams to win games.

The Vikings return to action with an October that is more frightening than any Halloween funhouse. With a slate of games that includes a Monday night game at the Jets, followed by Dallas, at Green Bay and at New England, the Vikings will have to play over their heads just to be 3-4 heading into November. However, with the struggles so many NFC teams have had, the typical chasm created by a bad start has been minimized for teams like the 1-2 Cowboys.

Two of the NFC's four divisions don't currently have a team with a record above .500 and it's hard to imagine that the dregs from the NFC West are going to get any better. As a group, they have a combined record of 6-10, with three of those wins coming in games play within the division where somebody had to win. In games played outside the division, they have a combined record of 3-7. It's hard to imagine, but a record of 8-8 or 7-9 could actually win that division.

The same is true to a lesser extent in the NFC East. The Redskins have perfected winning ugly and thanks, to a pair of sloppy divisional wins, they hold all the cards early on with wins over the Cowboys and Eagles, yet are extremely suspect on offense. They can't run the ball and Donovan McNabb goes long stretches without being able to get any demonstrable rhythm on offense. The team is being carried by defense and is averaging just 18 points a game, yet somehow, the Skins hold all the early cards.

In the North, aside from the Bears being exposed as a team that can not only be beaten, but be crushed, the Packers have to be asking themselves some questions. The Packers lead the NFL in scoring, yet are getting by with extremely little in the way of a running game and their defense was routinely run up and down the field on by a Lions team that was throttled down by the Vikings. The Lions outgained the Packers 431-261 on Sunday and ran almost twice as many plays (78) as Green Bay (40), but 13 penalties and red zone failure were about all that kept the Lions from beating the Packers at Lambeau for the first time in 20 years. If anything, more casual fans came away from that game more afraid of what the Lions were capable of than the Packers.

The Vikings get back on the job today with a lot to prove and a long road to climb to get back into position. They face an October minefield, but once they get through it, the final nine games feature two opponents that currently have a record above .500 – the Packers and Bears. The hole they've thrown themselves into is deep, but, thanks to an interesting Sunday that they got to watch from a distance, their prospects went up nicely.

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.

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