To date, the Vikings have won four straight elimination games and head into Lambeau Field Saturday night looking for one for the thumb. Dismissed by even some of their staunchest supporters as dead in the water when back-to-back road losses to Chicago and Green Bay left the Vikings at .500 with no tie-breaker advantages to be found, many NFL observers stuck a post-Thanksgiving fork in the Vikings.
The rationale made sense. The Vikings were facing a meat grinder of a schedule in their final four games. No team faced a final four with a better winning percentage than what the Vikings were up against. It would have been easy to pack in it when all seemed lost. But with their playoff lives hanging in the balance the Vikings have rebounded and greatly impacted the 2012 postseason – being solely responsible for Houston and Green Bay not getting bye weeks and knocking the Bears out of the playoffs, which led to the firing of head coach Lovie Smith despite a 10-6 record.
The Vikings have been on a four-game roll to close out the 2012 portion of the schedule and start 2013 knowing they're only halfway to their dream scenario. To achieve their ultimate goal of a Super Bowl title, they will have to win four more in a row and the competition just keeps getting tougher and tougher all the time.
But, when you consider where the Vikings are on Jan. 4 as opposed to where they were Dec. 4, the difference is startling – and a testament to a team pulling together to fight for their lives when the odds were stacked against them.
"Back when we were 6-6 and coming off losses to Chicago and Green Bay, it could have been easy for this team to just say that it wasn't our year and fall apart," offensive tackle Matt Kalil said. "Instead, it brought us closer together and reminded us that if we played our best ball down the stretch, we could still do this and get into the playoffs. We've been playing that kind of win-or-you're-out style these last four games and I think we're playing our best football right now."
While the Vikings are still viewed as the longest of long shots (only Cincinnati and Indianapolis have higher odds to win the Super Bowl of the 12 teams in the playoffs), the Vikings didn't just stick their foot in the playoff door, they kicked it off its hinges and crashed the party, whether anyone else liked it or not. Once inside, the Vikings understand their chances are just as good as anyone else's regardless of what the oddsmakers say. Those same oddsmakers said Minnesota didn't have a chance at Houston in Week 16 or vs. Green Bay last Sunday, so they're believing in themselves at a level comparable to the playoff run in 2009.
"Anything is possible when you're in the tournament," defensive end Jared Allen said. "How many times have we seen it over the last couple of years where a team that is the last one to get in goes all the way? We just got our chance to play one more game. That's been the way we've been playing for the last month and things have worked out pretty well so far."
Football is game a momentum, both positive and negative. When a team gets on a positive roll, bounces seem to go their way. Just the opposite is true when a team is on a downturn. The 2011 season could have been markedly different had the Vikings been able to hold onto halftime leads in their first three games. Once the negativity got involved, the snowball effect took place and the situation went from bad to worse. This time around, just the opposite has taken place and the Vikings are steeped in positive momentum that just continues to build.
"Our team is rolling," defensive end Everson Griffen said. "We've got confidence, but we've got to keep going out and executing. We have to have good days of practice and we've got to execute what we're doing and get ready for Green Bay. They're going to be ready for us and I know we're going to be ready for them. It's going to be a great battle and hopefully we come out victorious."
Beating the Packers in the regular-season finale was a huge emotional lift that completed the first half of the Vikings' mission to play in January. But now the playing field changes. Center John Sullivan doesn't think the Packers are going to overhaul anything they do because, quite simply, they don't have to. They will be at home in front of their own rabidly loyal fan base and will be looking to cause the Vikings the same sort of communication problems the fans at the Metrodome caused Aaron Rodgers last Sunday.
"Green Bay does what Green Bay does," Sullivan said. "They're a great football team and they're in the playoffs for a reason. Is it possible they could change some things up? Sure, but there's nothing they can do that we really haven't seen. We expect it to just be a physical game. It's a big challenge and, if we execute well, things should work out in our favor."
There is a concern that, with so few players on the roster that have tangible postseason experience, the Vikings may be subject to playoff jitters. But linebacker Chad Greenway summed it up best when he said if there was a game where the Vikings would have had the type of yips that typically accompanying an upstart team making the playoffs, it likely would have been Chicago a month ago, not Green Bay on Saturday.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.