While the Vikings only have the 1992 Chargers to keep them warm (that was only team to pull out of a 0-4 start to reach the playoffs), it's just as unlikely that a collapse of such epic proportions could happen to keep the Packers or the Lions out of the postseason. They could both play sub-.500 from here on (5-6) and still win 10 games each. That is a problem not only for the Vikings, but the rest of the NFC as well.
Although the NFL has become more generous in recent years with what they allow in the playoffs – the fraudulent 2010 Bears got to host the NFC Championship Game merely by beating sub-.500 Seattle at home – but the Packers and Lions have put the entire NFC on notice in prime time. By overcoming an early 14-0 deficit and beating Atlanta in Deion's house Sunday night and Detroit overpowering Chicago Monday night, the other 14 NFC teams have been told two things. First, if you want to make the playoffs, you had better win your division. Second, if you don't win your division, you're all fighting for one spot.
While the Vikings cling to the hope that they can get on a roll within the division, the fact of the matter is that the Packers and Lions have both built such a cushion that they can withstand a rough patch along the road and still be dominant. Remember the 2009 Vikings and their late-season slide at Carolina and Chicago? They had such a backlog of wins that they were able to encounter a bump in the road and still have enough to finish 12-4.
The Lions and Buffalo Bills have been the feel-good story among the fans, but they haven't been such a happy-go-lucky story among the other teams. The Lions and Packers have put everyone else on notice that if you want to make the 2011 NFC playoffs, if you don't win your division, the competition is going to be centered on one wild card spot, because the NFC North is going to get one of them.
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.