The Minnesota Vikings need to win their final two games to avoid the worst record in the franchise's 51-year history.
Whatever happens, coaches and players know that many jobs are on the line as the Vikings (2-12) limp toward the end of the season.
There is turnover every year in the NFL, but the rate increases exponentially on a team that is going through the kind of season the Vikings are experiencing right now. They have lost six games in a row, each one seemingly more painful than the next, including last weekend's 42-20 embarrassment at home against New Orleans.
After fighting so admirably for most of the season despite having little to show for it, Minnesota finally appeared to hit a wall.
"At some point you just have to say, ‘what the heck' we're 2-12, what do we have to lose?'" defensive end Jared Allen said after the game. "Try to make every play. A lot of people are probably going to get fired at this point anyways."
Coach Leslie Frazier is widely believed to be safe after a long first season on the job. The Wilf family has a lot of respect for Frazier and likely wouldn't be too pleased with paying three head coaches next year since Brad Childress is still on the payroll for another two years.
But if the Vikings are completely outclassed in the final two games — at Washington and home against Chicago — all bets are off.
Frazier said the team can't afford to think about what's going to happen after the season. They clearly need to put all their attention on this weekend's game to have a chance of winning.
"I'm really optimistic about the future, as difficult and as crazy as that may sound," Frazier said. "I think I have a good idea of what we need to do to not be in this situation in the future. So no, I'm not concerned about 2012 at this point."
The coaches aren't the only people under the gun as the season draws to a close. Roster spots are on the line as well.
"There's a lot at stake," linebacker Erin Henderson said. "They're watching closely right now to see who's still fighting, who's still coming out here trying to give their best and give it their all, and look to see who they can build this team with next year and continue to move forward with."
That includes quarterback.
The Vikings drafted Christian Ponder with the 12th pick in the first round and he had a promising start when he took over for Donovan McNabb in Week 7. But Ponder has regressed the last three weeks, and with the Vikings likely picking very high next April, a strong finish would help Ponder solidify his spot as the team's quarterback heading into next year.
"With Christian, like so many young quarterbacks, you don't want to base your judgment on one or two games," Frazier said. "Give him a chance to have an offseason to get with our coaches in OTAs that are going to help him. I think it's a little bit too early to panic about Christian."
After not getting an offseason to prepare because of the lockout, Ponder said this one will give him a chance to catch his breath, examine his game and get on the same page with his coaches and receivers.
"Last summer I had the playbook but didn't really know how things are run," Ponder said. "Now being through a full season, there will be a lot of time to spend on the small details and working all the time at getting better at the things I need to get better at."
Ponder said he played too conservatively last week, trying "to play not to lose" rather than going for the win.
Allen thinks the rookie wasn't alone.
"What are you going to lose? Go out, make plays and try to put your best effort out there and win games," Allen said. "Sometimes we get in a back-pedal mode and just try to maintain so we don't get beat too bad."
Players, coaches brace for inevitable changes
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