As far as the Minnesota Vikings’ hopes of making the playoffs go, things couldn’t have gone worse for them on Sunday. The Vikings took care of their business, but so did all of the teams that they are chasing or trying to distance themselves from.
Coming into play Sunday, it looked as though the night could end with Minnesota being in a lot better position that it was entering play. Considering the Vikings did their job to keep their own playoff dream alive, the schedule appeared to be laying out favorably for them.
The only team that they were chasing that appeared to have a clear advantage in the early games was division-leading Detroit. Although Matthew Stafford suffered a hand injury, he said after the game that he doesn’t think it will impact him moving forward and Detroit once again found itself losing in the fourth quarter only to rally late (for the eighth time this season erasing a fourth-quarter deficit) and put away Chicago 20-17. Not only did the win maintain Detroit’s two-game lead in the division, it would push them into the No. 2 seed in the NFC, which would mean the Lions would get a first-round bye if the playoffs started today. Although the Lions have a brutal closing schedule (at the Giants, at the Cowboys and vs. Green Bay), all they need to do is win one of those remaining three games to eliminate the Vikings from defending the NFC North title.
The other early game of interest to the Vikings included the one team that likely won’t have to worry about tie-breakers – the Washington Redskins. Having played to a tie with Cincinnati, the Redskins came into play 6-5-1, a half-game ahead of the Vikings in the wild card race. Despite being on the road in a game that saw five lead changes, Washington came away with a 27-22 win in Philadelphia.
In the late afternoon games, the Vikings found themselves cheering for teams that have put them out of the playoffs in years past – Seattle and New Orleans.
Seattle went into Green Bay as the No. 2 seed in the NFC with a chance to still wrestle away the top seed, but the Seahawks got completely hammered by the Packers, who forced Russell Wilson into five interceptions in a 38-10 beat-down that kept Green Bay tied the Vikings at 7-6 and dropped Seattle out of the No. 2 seed. The Packers are always a tough out at home, but it has been 86 games since somebody laid a beating like that down on Seattle. Despite Aaron Rodgers suffering a calf injury, he stayed in the game – until the Packers were so far ahead he was pulled early in the fourth quarter so as not to risk further injury.
In the other late-afternoon game of note, the Saints went into Tampa Bay looking to keep their faint playoff hopes alive. Instead, Drew Brees had his worst game of the season. The offense didn’t score any touchdowns and Brees threw three interceptions in a 16-11 loss to the Bucs that improves Tampa Bay to 8-5 and has them hanging on to the second wild card spot.
Heading into the Sunday night game, the Vikings were actually cheering for Dallas. They have no way of catching the Cowboys, but they have a head-to-head win over the Giants, who entered the game with a record of 8-4. If Dallas could avenge its Week 1 loss to the G-Men, New York would only be a game in front of the Vikings with a tie-breaker disadvantage. As happened with every other critical game for the playoff race, the Giants came away with a 10-7 win that keeps them two games ahead of the Vikings with three to play.
To their credit, the Vikings did everything they needed to do to enhance their own playoff standing. Unfortunately for them, they didn’t gain any ground because all five of the teams they wanted/needed to lose came away with wins, shaving one week of the schedule without the Vikings gaining an advantage on any of them.
There is still a good chance that, if the Vikings run the table in the final three weeks, they will make it into the playoffs, but that road just got a whole lot tougher with the outcomes of a handful of other games in which the Vikings had a vested interest.