Vikings get first win and AFC favors

The Vikings got their first win and a bunch of help in the NFC playoff picture, even if they have to cure some of their own ills before seriously considering the playoff picture.

What a difference a day can make in the outlook of a season.

While Sunday's 34-27 win over Pittsburgh didn't put the Vikings automatically back into the picture of teams capable of making the playoffs – this was supposed to be the "easy" portion of their 2013 schedule – Week 4 couldn't have laid out better for the Vikings.

When the 2013 season began, it was almost a universal assumption that there were far more elite teams in the NFC than the AFC. At the quarter-pole of the season, nothing could be further from the truth. The NFC and AFC have played 21 games to date. The AFC holds a record of 15-6 with tonight's game between Miami and New Orleans pending. But, from the Vikings' perspective, they carved out a piece of the AFC that few others did and suddenly they're in the same marina as other seemingly sinking ships instead of being cast adrift on their own.

Consider the following:

  • Detroit beat Chicago, not only knocking the Bears from the ranks of the unbeaten, but giving them a pretty sound beatdown and exposing their defensive deficiencies.

  • Dallas dropped to 2-2 with a loss at San Diego, further solidifying the impression that the winner of the NFC East may have eight or nine wins to get the job done.

  • Philadelphia was the latest team to get jobbed by the Broncos, but, increasingly, the offense that made defensive coordinators wide-eyed in the first half of their opening-night win over the Redskins hasn't come back since.

  • The Giants continue to lose, this time being humbled by the Chiefs. In any other division, they'd be dead in the water, but this is the new-look NFC Least Division, where teams are a combined 4-12.

  • Tampa Bay found yet another way to lose ugly – this time at home to Arizona. They've already benched their starting quarterback and have scored just 44 points in four games. It doesn't get much worse than that.

  • Atlanta lost at home in a "statement game" against the Patriots and is now 1-3. The Falcons lost three games all last season and now are in danger of falling three games behind New Orleans with a loss in hand.

    On a day when more Vikings fans than not were saying something to effect of, "Here we go again," in the final two minutes of Sunday's game, the Vikings came out of the game with a victory and have reason to keep their ears tuned to the results next week while on bye. The Bears and Lions are both 3-1 atop the NFC North, but the Bears play New Orleans next week and Detroit heads into Green Bay, where things historically go bad.

    For as much second-guessing that has been done in the first three weeks of the season and, given what happened Sunday in London, there would appear to be a couple more weeks of spirited fan debate, despite how bad things looked 24 hours earlier.

    Such is a day in the life of the world's greatest reality show. The London audience arguably got the best game from the fan experience that they've had in the seven years of the International Series. The Vikings got a must-win victory. After two weeks of sustained come-from-ahead losses, the Vikings finished the job.

    In the end, will it make a difference in the overall picture of the 2013 season? Maybe not. But, as the Vikings take Week 5 off to recharge their batteries for the 12-game gauntlet in front of them – in which nine wins may well be needed to secure a playoff spot – there's nothing like returning home with a win in hand.

    Thanks to help from the "inferior" AFC, the Vikings are in much better position than they potentially could have or should have been.

    It almost makes you forget that they've had the lead with 1:00 left on the clock in each of the last three games and have just one win to show for it.

    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.

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