In what could be a bittersweet six-week stretch to end a miserable season, the Vikings are in the running for a top-two draft pick and the worst season in the 51-year history of the franchise.
Whether the latter is extra motivation to start a winning streak at Atlanta on Sunday depends on which player you ask.
"I don't want to sit here and get into whether we're motivated by not wanting to be one of the worst teams in franchise history," defensive end Jared Allen said. "I don't even know the history of the Vikings or anything like that in that regard. The motivation for us is to just win. There are too many games left this year to be even talking about us being one of the worst teams in franchise history."
Meanwhile, receiver Percy Harvin said it is. Kind of.
"I guess so, if you're into stats and history," Harvin said. "But I don't think anybody is looking at history or whatnot. I think the most important thing for our football team is just to win to get this thing headed in the right direction for the future. It's our jobs to do so."
It won't be easy. Adrian Peterson, the best player and face of the franchise, is expected to miss at least the Falcons game because of a high left ankle sprain suffered last week against the Raiders.
His backup, Toby Gerhart, is a 2010 second-round draft pick and a powerful runner when he's in rhythm. But he's also not Adrian Peterson.
The Vikings also could be without their top two pass-catching tight ends and their starting free safety. Tight ends Visanthe Shiancoe (hamstring) and Kyle Rudolph (quadriceps) missed practice on Wednesday and Thursday, as did free safety Husain Abdullah (concussion).
The Vikings enter a six-week stretch in which their opponents are now a combined 35-25. Four of those opponents — Atlanta, Detroit, Chicago and New Orleans — have winning records. Only one team, Washington, has a losing record, but the game is at Washington on Christmas Eve.
The two worst seasons in Vikings history are 1962 and 1984. The 1962 team (2-11-1) had the fewest wins and the worst winning percentage (.179). The 1984 team had the most losses. Only three other teams in franchise history lost 11 games, the last coming in 2001.
The 1962 and 1984 teams had the second-worst records in the league. This year's team is tied for the second-worst record. The teams in 1962 and 1984 had the worst scoring defenses in the league. This year's team ranks 30th among the 32 teams in scoring defense.
The Vikings also would have to finish an unlikely 3-3 to avoid joining the infamous 1984 team as the only ones in franchise history to lose more than 11 games.
"1984" is a four-letter word in Minnesota. It's the year Bud Grant retired and turned over his coaching duties to Les Steckel. Steckel lasted one season before Grant came out of retirement to coach the 1985 season.
Grant still has an office at Winter Park, but it's safe to say he's not going to pull a Favre and unretire a second time.
Because he was taking over a team in transition during the lockout, current coach Leslie Frazier isn't in danger of losing his job. But he's also not so comfortable that he can automatically survive a 2-14 season.
So, in a way, yeah, trying to avoid being added to the list of worst teams in franchise history is motivation.
"You're right, you don't want to be associated with being one of the worst teams (in franchise history)," linebacker Chad Greenway said. "You get to the NFL because you've been successful, probably in college and high school. Most of us have been on winning teams. This is a position that's hard to be in, especially coming off a 6-10 season as well. ... We want to finish this thing with five, six, seven, eight wins. We have nothing to lose and a lot of the teams we play going forward have a lot to lose." BIG ROLE FOR SAPP
Although the Vikings lost to the Raiders last week, the depleted secondary wasn't exposed the way it was expected to be.
Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer and his group of speedy receivers were coming off a game in which Palmer broke a 43-year-old team record by averaging 14.95 yards per pass attempt. The Vikings, meanwhile, had just placed cornerback Antoine Winfield on injured reserve (clavicle) and were without free safety Husain Abdullah (concussion) and cornerback Chris Cook because of his felony domestic assault charges.
The Vikings also were forced to play Benny Sapp for about 30 snaps at nickelback just five days after Sapp was signed off the street. Sapp knew the defense from having played with the Vikings in 2008 and 2009, but he also hadn't played a down of football since the Dolphins released him after their season opener.
"I think I did all right for a guy who was sitting on the couch for two months," Sapp said.
Coach Leslie Frazier not only agreed, but confirmed that Sapp will continue as the No. 1 nickelback starting with Sunday's game at Atlanta.
"To go in there and play the number of snaps he did and to be as effective as he was was really encouraging," Frazier said. "The team we're playing (on Sunday) plays some multiple wide receiver sets as well, so we expect his numbers to be up there. But his competitive nature, his competitive quickness, and his athletic ability showed up on Sunday and we think he's going to be a good addition to what we're trying to do."
The Raiders made it easier on the Vikings. After two special-teams gaffes — a dropped field goal snap and a fumble of the ensuing kickoff — handed the Raiders 14 points and a 24-7 halftime lead, Oakland shifted to an ultra-conservative offensive plan. It nearly cost the Raiders the game because the Vikings came back before falling 27-21.
Sapp wasn't tested that often, but he did have to execute more snaps than he ever imagined he'd have to.
"It was a surprise, but, you know, I'm a dog, so I'm going to give it to you and finish strong," Sapp said. "That's what I live and die by."
Vikings motivated to avoid being the worst?
Viking Update Top Stories
Preview: Vikings facing aggressive EaglesThe Minnesota Vikings’ continued success on Sunday will be predicated on their ability to handle and exploit the aggressiveness of the Philadelphia Eagles.
Viking Update7:26 PM
Key matchup: Former teammates face offOnly time will tell who got the better of the Sam Bradford trade to the Minnesota Vikings, but he and Carson Wentz will face each other Sunday after the trade that surprised them…
Viking Update7:06 AM
Vikings podcast: Spielman, Bradford and moreThe Minnesota Vikings are showing the fruits of some solid roster building and coaching. Their record, their stats and their depth prove it, as a talk with Rick Spielman showed.
Viking Update6:17 AM
Vikings rush offense needs to improveThe Minnesota Vikings are the lone unbeaten team in the NFL, yet they are failing at one of the typical telltale signs of a winning team - being able to control the clock with a…
Viking UpdateYesterday at 8:23 PM