There isn’t going to be much needed in the way of hype leading up to the Vikings-Packers game Sunday. Not since late in the 2012 season when the Vikings needed to win their last four games – including a home win against Green Bay – to make the playoffs, has there been this kind of excitement surrounding the storied rivalry.
At 7-2, the Vikings are in control of their own playoff destiny to the greatest extent since the 2009 season when Brett Favre and the boys came out of the gate with a record of 10-1 and had the NFL world buzzing.
The way things stand currently, it doesn’t look to matter in the bigger picture of things who wins Sunday, because both teams appear destined to make the postseason.
The playoff picture currently seems pretty clear cut. There are six teams in the NFC with a record of .500 or better, which conveniently is the number of teams that make the playoffs.
At 9-0, Carolina has the inside track to the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage in the playoffs. The Vikings and Cardinals both sit at 7-2 in a battle for the other first-round playoff bye. Trying to dissect the tie-breaker advantages there is a moot point because the Vikings and Cardinals will play each other Dec. 10 in Arizona, which will decide which team would have the tie-breaker edge if it were to come down to that at season’s end.
In the NFC East, the Giants have the current edge at 5-5, the only team in the division that has managed to win as many games as it has lost this season.
As it pertains to the wild cards, there is a clear separation between the 6-3 Packers and Falcons and the rest of the pack trying to pick up the pieces of their season and make a December run for the playoffs in the same way the Vikings did in 2012.
There are six teams currently sitting at 4-5 – Seattle, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Chicago, Tampa Bay and Washington – and the Saints are a half-game behind them at 4-6. One of them will have to emerge to make a run like the Vikings did in 2012, breaking from the pack at 6-6 after 12 games to win their final four and move on to the postseason.
Against all of those potential competitors, the Vikings have a three-game lead in the playoff chase and, to date, haven’t lost to any of them. The Vikings are going to have a big hand in determining who makes the playoffs and who doesn’t because, from this point, the Vikings will play Green Bay twice to determine who wins the NFC North, as well as games against current playoff teams Arizona, New York and Atlanta and playoff hopefuls Seattle and Chicago.
Every game from here on in will have playoff significance because how those teams fare against the Vikings will go a long way to determining if they’re playing in mid-January or at home watching.
The Vikings have set themselves up nicely for the playoffs with seven wins in their last eight games and a current five-game winning streak. The team is going to have to keep its foot on the gas regardless of how Sunday’s game turns out because the hits are going to just keep on coming from now until the end of the regular season.
Just about every team, with the exception of Carolina, that is in the mix for the playoffs will go up against the Vikings with a chance to make their case why they should end up as a division champion or wild card.
Coaches stress that players never look beyond the team that is directly in front of them the week they’re playing that team. The rest of us have the luxury of trying to look at the big picture and perhaps never in recent history has a team had such a singular level of controlling its own destiny as the 2015 Vikings.
They can take control of winning the NFC North with a win Sunday. They can drop the Giants into a dogfight for the NFC East crown. They can knock current wild Atlanta back a peg. They can make things difficult for Arizona at it tries to lock down a first-round playoff bye. The can provide the potential playoff dagger to Seattle and Chicago.
Sunday is going to be the biggest Vikings game in years, but the fact of the matter is that every game from here on through is going to have some meaningful postseason implication because as things currently stand the Vikings are in the driver’s seat and operating the bus that is heading full speed to the postseason.