In light of Sunday's loss, the Vikings have to embark on a path that might make their comeback win over the Cardinals look easy. It's going to be playoff football in Week 11, 12, 13, etc. Many view it as an impossibility, but it's the only hope – unrealistic as it may be – that the Vikings have.
Given their current situation – three games behind both the Packers and Bears in the division, as well as being three games behind the Giants, Eagles, Saints and Buccaneers – it would appear a mountain too high to climb. But, that's the beauty of mathematics. To quote Lloyd Chistmas, "So you're telling me there's a chance."
The biggest issue is how a team that has defeated only the 2-7 Cowboys and 2-7 Lions with any level of supremacy – they caught lightning in a bottle late against Arizona – can expect to run the table. Unfortunately, at 3-6, that may be the Vikings' only chance.
The good news for the Vikings is that four of their next five games will be played at Mall of America Field and the one road game is against the Redskins, where Brad Childress is alleged to run a similar style of offense to Philadelphia – just not with a scrambling machine like Vick. If they are to go to 10-6, which it looks like it will take to get to the playoffs, the lay of the remaining schedule is actually pretty conducive to a miracle comeback.
The only loss of extra consequence on the Vikings' schedule is the season opener to New Orleans. If 7-2 Atlanta can maintain its current lead in the NFC South, the Saints will be in the thick of the wild card chase. Their victory over the Vikings would be an automatic out for Minnesota. However, Atlanta's stranglehold on the top spot is going to be tested. Four of the Falcons next five games are on the road and they are 2-2 on the road to date. If they stumble, the Saints could take themselves out of the wild card mix, win the NFC South and take away the head-to-head loss in wild card consideration.
Chicago is 6-3 and, while it often seems they have won games with smoke and mirrors, they made all the plays against the Vikings. But in their final seven games, they play the Eagles, Patriots, Vikings, Jets and Packers (as well as road games at Miami and Detroit). Not to be a persistent Bears hater, but they could lose all of those games. It's a tough schedule in which they may not be favored in any of them – their remaining home games are against the Eagles, Patriots and Jets and they don't have the swagger to overcome a three-point given advantage that home teams get in setting point spreads. They were an underdog against the Vikings last week, so it isn't out of the question that they could tank hard.
Green Bay is in charge at the moment, but they have the polar opposite schedule as the Vikings over the next month plus. The Packers play three of their next four games on the road (vs. the Vikings, Falcons, Lions and Patriots), as well as the Giants and Bears to close out the season. It's a minefield, but it's hard to imagine the Packers dropping out of playoff contention.
The Buccaneers are a potential road block, but few people have actually jumped on their bandwagon. For a sport as high-profile as the NFL, the Bucs remain essentially anonymous, despite a 6-3 record. The problem is how they have built their 6-3 record. Their six wins are against Cleveland, Carolina (twice), Cincinnati, St. Louis and Arizona. None of those teams have a winning record. Their three losses? Against the three opponents that do have winning records – Pittsburgh, New Orleans and Atlanta. Using the logic that has been Tampa Bay's season – beating teams with losing records and losing to teams with winning records – given their remaining schedule under that same criteria, the Bucs will finish 10-6. There probably aren't that many people that would take that bet – willing to put up a couple hundred bucks that the Bucs will finish with double-digit wins. For the Vikings sake, they better not.
The Giants are in – regardless of what Dallas did to them Sunday. However, if they do stumble, the Vikings have a chance to take advantage by playing them at the Metrodome Dec. 12. The same is true for the Eagles, except that they get the Vikings at home. However, with Dallas on the schedule twice, it's hard not to like their chances.
In the end, it's going to come down to four teams that the Vikings have to beat out – the best team in the NFC North and the loser of the battles between the Giants and Eagles in the East and the Falcons and Saints in the South.
It's a long road. It isn't going to be easy. And, as long as the Vikings continue to turn the ball over at a league-worst pace, it will a Man of La Mancha type of impossible dream. But, for the moment, it's all the Vikings players, coaches and fans have to cling to.
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.
Vikings grasping for the improbable playoffs
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