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Minnesota Vikings control destiny, but it’s a tough road

The Minnesota Vikings are one of five winning teams in the NFC, but their final nine games will test their mettle.

The question that has been a topic of conversation from the corridors of politics to the conference rooms of high-rise executives to the happy hour crowd of afternoon social drinkers to the circle of people around Friday night bonfires has been are the Vikings a playoff team?

As of right now, yeah.

It sounds a lot like the Twins in late June.

In a strange NFL anomaly, of the 16 teams in the NFC, only five of them have a record better than .500. Nobody in the NFC East has a record above .500 and the two at .500 – Philadelphia and the Giants – have both lost to 2-3 Dallas, which controls its own destiny with Matt Cassel stepping into the breech to erase the memory of the Brandon Weeden era in Dallas.

What makes the Vikings’ position as a rare above-.500 team is that nobody but the undefeated teams controls their own destiny in the NFC as much as Minnesota.

The Vikings have played just two games against just two NFC teams. Of their final nine games, eight of them will be against teams from their own conference, including five against the teams from the NFC North.

Stopping the roll that Green Bay is on will be difficult because, at 6-0, the Packers are heading into their bye week looking about as dominant as any team in the league, having already bankrolled four wins against NFC opponents. Barring a collapse, it would appear that both Carolina (5-0) and Atlanta (5-1) have the early inside track to two of the six playoff spots up for grabs, so unless Aaron Rodgers goes down to injury, the Vikings may be competing for a wild card spot unless they catch fire and rattle off a series of wins.

The Vikings can solidify their positioning in the early portion of the playoff run by doing what playoff teams do – win games on the road. Three of their next four games will be on the road, but all of them will be against teams with losing records at the moment – at Detroit (1-5), at Chicago (2-4), vs. St. Louis (2-3) and at Oakland (2-3).

It’s still much too early to be writing off teams like Dallas or the Giants or Seattle. When healthy, all of them are capable of stringing together wins that could put them back in control of their own playoff destiny, but, for the time being as things currently stand, the Vikings are living up to the expectation they had when training camp opened in July – to be a playoff team in the NFC.

The hard part is still coming for Minnesota. The final nine games will be minefield of quality opponents that will test the Vikings mettle and go a long way to preparing them to be a playoff team, because, while the actual playoffs won’t begin until January, the gauntlet of playoff-caliber opponents the Vikings will face in November and December will be the preparatory work that will make the battle-tested if they can continue to win games and bank equity in tie-breaker scenarios moving forward.

Are the 2015 Vikings a playoff team? As the standing currently sit, they are. Will they stay in the playoff picture for the rest of the season? Check back in 11 weeks from now. Until then? Enjoy the ride.

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