Sunday slant: Midseason must-win

The Vikings find themselves in a precarious position after losing three of their last four games. With the rest of the division surging, Minnesota has to step up Sunday to stay in the thick of the NFC playoff chase and they know it. There is little trying to hide the importance of a division win at home this week.

The dominance of the division could both help and hurt the Minnesota Vikings. If they survive a grueling stretch in their final seven games, they will be sufficiently battle-tested – but that's a big "if."

Over the last most, the Vikings have dropped three out of four games while the rest of the division has been on a tear. The Chicago Bears are 7-1 and haven't lost since Week 2, when another NFC North team, the Green Bay Packers, took them apart at Lambeau Field. The Packers passed up the Vikings in the division last week when they crushed Arizona 31-17 to extend their winning streak to four straight games. And now the Detroit Lions have made a case for postseason consideration, winning their last two games and pulling to .500 (4-4), just a half game behind the Vikings.

That makes Sunday's game even more important for Minnesota. A win would give the Vikings a 1½ game lead over the Lions and the first tie-breaker advantage (winning the head-to-head series with Detroit). If they lose, however, they could be in dire straits.

Jared Allen dubbed Sunday's game as "huge" and only slightly backtracked after starting to call it a "must win" game.

"I'd lie to you if I said it was just another game. It's absolutely not another game. We've got to play well. It's at home and it's in our division. We've got to put up. That's the sense of urgency I feel around here, especially from the group of guys that know how tough Detroit games have been in the past," Allen said.

Sure, the Vikings have dominated the Detroit series with a 67-33-2 record, including going 36-13-1 at home. But, as Allen points out, these aren't Matt Millen's Lions anymore.

Until 2010-2011, the Vikings hadn't lost back-to-back game to Detroit since 1997, including winning streaks of 11 had six games since 2002. But when Minnesota snapped an 11-game losing streak in the division with a 20-13 win over Detroit on Sept. 30, it also ended a three-game losing streak to Detroit.

"Even when they were 0-16, they were always tough," Allen said. "It's a pivotal game in the season to where if you lose this one, you put yourself far behind the 8-ball with six games left and you're going into a bye on a three-game skid. It's an absolute – I don't want to say must-win – but it's one we've got to get."

The way the NFC North is shaping up, Allen is exactly right.

It's hard to argue that the NFC North isn't the toughest division in football. The Bears are on a six-game winning streak and setting all kinds of scoring records on defense. The Packers are on a four-game winning streak as they enjoy their bye week and watch two teams below them battle it out Sunday.

Like the Vikings, the Packers lost to Seattle, but they also beat the Houston Texans and took down the New Orleans Saints before they got hot. Meanwhile, the Vikings have no one to blame but themselves for suddenly falling out of the playoff picture in the "if the playoffs started today" scenarios. They have been in the wild card picture for the last month, up until last week.

Now their quarterback, Christian Ponder, has fallen into an awful streak in which he hasn't even eclipsed the 70-yard passing mark in two of the last three games. After becoming the last of the NFL's starting quarterbacks to throw an interception, he has now tossed eight interceptions in the last five games. It has taken the Vikings to the 30th-ranked passing offense in the league.

Even the Vikings' run defense, which had done so well earlier in the season while going four straight games without allowing 100 yards on the ground, has now faded badly. They have given up 125 yards or more on the ground in each of the last four games, including 183 yards at Washington and 195 yards at Seattle.

Allen was beside himself talking about the run defense, saying giving up all those yards was almost a worse feeling than last year when the Vikings started out 1-6. Maybe that's because for the first time since 2009 they were actually in a great position to be a playoff contender in the second half of the season. They are still in the hunt; it's just that Allen's "relentless pursuit" has become a bit more desperate in recent weeks.

"Now we're sitting here at 5-4 and that playoff picture is a real picture. You're trying to position yourself in November and December to put yourself in the right position to get into the tournament and we have that opportunity. I think that's something that I stress and a lot of guys stress," Allen said. "It's rare to be sitting halfway through the season and have a winning record and have a chance to play your entire division and go on a little run and position yourself for the playoffs. The sense of urgency is heightened around here."

It should be. Fans are on edge and hoping to get pitchforks through the metal detectors at the Metrodome in case Ponder mixes in more stink to his game (expect the Vikings to introduce the defense to avoid the pregame boos). The fact that Percy Harvin, the league's leading receiver, is doubtful won't add to the optimism.

Still, the Vikings have an eminently winnable game in front of them, and an important one for the standings. It would essentially put the Lions in their rear-view mirror when it comes to playoff scenarios and put them in the thick of the NFC contenders.

The New York Giants (6-3), Chicago Bears (7-1), Atlanta Falcons (8-0) and San Francisco 49ers (6-2) are leading their divisions and the Green Bay Packers (6-3) appear on target to be in the mix, too. But after those five, it's just the Vikings (5-4) and Seattle Seahawks (5-4) left with winning records.

A loss wouldn't necessarily end the Vikings' playoff hopes, but they certainly can't keep playing at a subpar level in their pass offense and run defense and expect to compete with the Bears and Packers in four of their last six games. Still, having those games on the November and December schedule will at least give them the opportunity to make up ground they gave away in the division.

"We have to play our best football coming up. That's just the way it has to be. We're not doing that. We need something to flip it. And this is a great opportunity, this weekend, at home, against Detroit, who is playing well," linebacker Chad Greenway said. "This will give us a great chance to beat a good team in our place to get things going into the bye. Then we know what lays beyond that. But we have to win the game. You've got to go out there and play. You can prepare well, have a good week of practice, but you've got to go win. We've prepared and done the bookwork. We just haven't done the legwork on Sundays, and we have to get that turned around."

Essentially, that's it. It's put up or shut up time. Win and they're in the thick of it, knowing if they start playing better they can have a shot. Lose and continue playing without solutions to recurring problems and their goose will be cooked about the same time as everyone else's Thanksgiving turkey.


Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.



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\r\n\r\n","mobileBody":"The dominance of the division could both help and hurt the Minnesota Vikings. If they survive a grueling stretch in their final seven games, they will be sufficiently battle-tested – but that's a big \"if.\" Over the last most, the Vikings have dropped three out of four games while the rest of the division has been on a tear. The Chicago Bears are 7-1 and haven't lost since Week 2, when another NFC North team, the Green Bay Packers, took them apart at Lambeau Field. The Packers passed up the Vikings in the division last week when they crushed Arizona 31-17 to extend their winning streak to four straight games. And now the Detroit Lions have made a case for postseason consideration, winning their last two games and pulling to .500 (4-4), just a half game behind the Vikings. That makes Sunday's game even more important for Minnesota. A win would give the Vikings a 1½ game lead over the Lions and the first tie-breaker advantage (winning the head-to-head series with Detroit). If they lose, however, they could be in dire straits. Jared Allen dubbed Sunday's game as \"huge\" and only slightly backtracked after starting to call it a \"must win\" game. \"I'd lie to you if I said it was just another game. It's absolutely not another game. We've got to play well. It's at home and it's in our division. We've got to put up. That's the sense of urgency I feel around here, especially from the group of guys that know how tough Detroit games have been in the past,\" Allen said. Sure, the Vikings have dominated the Detroit series with a 67-33-2 record, including going 36-13-1 at home. But, as Allen points out, these aren't Matt Millen's Lions anymore. Until 2010-2011, the Vikings hadn't lost back-to-back game to Detroit since 1997, including winning streaks of 11 had six games since 2002. But when Minnesota snapped an 11-game losing streak in the division with a 20-13 win over Detroit on Sept. 30, it also ended a three-game losing streak to Detroit. \"Even when they were 0-16, they were always tough,\" Allen said. \"It's a pivotal game in the season to where if you lose this one, you put yourself far behind the 8-ball with six games left and you're going into a bye on a three-game skid. It's an absolute – I don't want to say must-win – but it's one we've got to get.\" The way the NFC North is shaping up, Allen is exactly right. It's hard to argue that the NFC North isn't the toughest division in football. The Bears are on a six-game winning streak and setting all kinds of scoring records on defense. The Packers are on a four-game winning streak as they enjoy their bye week and watch two teams below them battle it out Sunday. Like the Vikings, the Packers lost to Seattle, but they also beat the Houston Texans and took down the New Orleans Saints before they got hot. Meanwhile, the Vikings have no one to blame but themselves for suddenly falling out of the playoff picture in the \"if the playoffs started today\" scenarios. They have been in the wild card picture for the last month, up until last week. Now their quarterback, Christian Ponder, has fallen into an awful streak in which he hasn't even eclipsed the 70-yard passing mark in two of the last three games. After becoming the last of the NFL's starting quarterbacks to throw an interception, he has now tossed eight interceptions in the last five games. It has taken the Vikings to the 30th-ranked passing offense in the league. Even the Vikings' run defense, which had done so well earlier in the season while going four straight games without allowing 100 yards on the ground, has now faded badly. They have given up 125 yards or more on the ground in each of the last four games, including 183 yards at Washington and 195 yards at Seattle. Allen was beside himself talking about the run defense, saying giving up all those yards was almost a worse feeling than last year when the Vikings started out 1-6. Maybe that's because for the first time since 2009 they were actually in a great position to be a playoff contender in the second half of the season. They are still in the hunt; it's just that Allen's \"relentless pursuit\" has become a bit more desperate in recent weeks. \"Now we're sitting here at 5-4 and that playoff picture is a real picture. You're trying to position yourself in November and December to put yourself in the right position to get into the tournament and we have that opportunity. I think that's something that I stress and a lot of guys stress,\" Allen said. \"It's rare to be sitting halfway through the season and have a winning record and have a chance to play your entire division and go on a little run and position yourself for the playoffs. The sense of urgency is heightened around here.\" It should be. Fans are on edge and hoping to get pitchforks through the metal detectors at the Metrodome in case Ponder mixes in more stink to his game (expect the Vikings to introduce the defense to avoid the pregame boos). The fact that Percy Harvin, the league's leading receiver, is doubtful won't add to the optimism. Still, the Vikings have an eminently winnable game in front of them, and an important one for the standings. It would essentially put the Lions in their rear-view mirror when it comes to playoff scenarios and put them in the thick of the NFC contenders. The New York Giants (6-3), Chicago Bears (7-1), Atlanta Falcons (8-0) and San Francisco 49ers (6-2) are leading their divisions and the Green Bay Packers (6-3) appear on target to be in the mix, too. But after those five, it's just the Vikings (5-4) and Seattle Seahawks (5-4) left with winning records. A loss wouldn't necessarily end the Vikings' playoff hopes, but they certainly can't keep playing at a subpar level in their pass offense and run defense and expect to compete with the Bears and Packers in four of their last six games. Still, having those games on the November and December schedule will at least give them the opportunity to make up ground they gave away in the division. \"We have to play our best football coming up. That's just the way it has to be. We're not doing that. We need something to flip it. And this is a great opportunity, this weekend, at home, against Detroit, who is playing well,\" linebacker Chad Greenway said. \"This will give us a great chance to beat a good team in our place to get things going into the bye. Then we know what lays beyond that. But we have to win the game. You've got to go out there and play. You can prepare well, have a good week of practice, but you've got to go win. We've prepared and done the bookwork. We just haven't done the legwork on Sundays, and we have to get that turned around.\" Essentially, that's it. It's put up or shut up time. Win and they're in the thick of it, knowing if they start playing better they can have a shot. Lose and continue playing without solutions to recurring problems and their goose will be cooked about the same time as everyone else's Thanksgiving turkey. 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