How Critical Was Sunday's Loss?

While many are discussing how squandering a chance to bury the Packers Sunday hurt the Vikings, the bigger question should be what needs to be done in the second half to keep the Packers at arm's length?

The Vikings had a chance to all but put away the NFC North title Sunday night before losing the Packers. Now, the bandwagon jumpers are in free fall -- claiming the team is suddenly woeful despite a 6-2 record.

But it is far from the end of the world for the Vikings. With the Packers at 4-4, they still need to gain some ground to catch the Vikings, which will be far from easy. In the next three weeks, the Packers play Philadelphia next Monday night, have a short week heading into Tampa Bay and then return home to play the 49ers. Throw in a Thanksgiving Day game at Detroit -- where the Lions always play tough -- and the Packers have a tough road ahead of them to be 6-6 by the end of the month.

The Vikings, on the other hand, have their next three games against teams with losing records and dissent within the team -- at San Diego, at Oakland and vs. Detroit. Three wins here and the division title could again be firmly in the team's grasp.

The biggest loss for the Vikings came in the tie-breaker realm. Both the Vikes and Packers are 3-1 in the division, with the Vikings holding an edge in conference record (5-2 to 4-3), the fourth tie-breaker and the current edge in common opponents, the third tie-breaker. What becomes critical now is winning the remaining division games vs. Detroit and at Chicago, and doing well against common opponents of the Packers (the Chargers, Raiders, Rams, Seahawks and Chiefs). The Packers already have losses to the Cardinals, Chiefs and Rams. The division title could come down to Week 17 when the Vikings travel to Arizona. Earlier this year in 110-degree weather, the Cardinals beat the Packers. That could come back to haunt Green Bay, as it is the one game that the Vikings can still have in hand to determine a tie-breaker.

So don't start yelling that the sky is falling. The Vikings are still up by two games and, if they play well against the teams they're expected to beat in the second half, not only should a division title be in the offing, but perhaps a first-round bye as well.

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