The Wild Ride Starts Saturday

Are the Vikings playoff material? Take a look around the playoffs this season and ask yourself.

There's good and bad about the proliferation of sports shows on TV, radio and the Internet. It has shown how fickle opinion can be on NFL teams.

Unlike baseball or basketball, where teams can go long stretches playing well or poorly, but nothing matters until the final month of the regular season, football is a week-by-week struggle.

Look at the Dolphins, for example. Viewed as a favorite for the Super Bowl from the AFC, they lose their opener to the Texans. What happens? Dave Wannstedt should be fired. They win the next four and they're Super Bowl bound again. Lose three of the next four, the hook comes back out. Win the next three to go to 8-4, everybody loves them. Lose the next two, they're out of the playoffs and Wannstedt should be fired again.

Sound familiar? It should. The Vikings have gone through the same roller coaster. But who hasn't? Consider the following: * ST. LOUIS -- Clearly the Big Daddy of the NFC, the Rams allow alot of turnovers. Too many by some standards. They also have a small defense that could get overpowered by a larger, meaner offensive front. While clearly the favorite at home, they can be had.
* PHILADELPHIA -- The Eagles hadn't lost since Rush Limbaugh made his remarks about Donovan McNabb. But a home loss to San Francisco has them potentially going anywhere from first to sixth in the playoff race. Unlike most of the other playoff contenders, three of their four losses have come at home, so having home field may not be such an advantage.
* DALLAS -- The Cowboys have beaten Philly and Carolina at home, but heading into this weekend, they're 4-3 on the road and, barring a surprise, they will finish as a wild card and be forced to play on the road for the entire playoffs.
* CAROLINA -- The Panthers are 10-5 but lost three straight games in the past month-plus. Of the four games vs. teams expected to make the playoffs, they are 1-3. They haven't scored more than 20 points in any of the last six games. This is a team that must win by defense and likely won't put up enough offense to beat any team that can bring an offense of any serious ability.
* GREEN BAY -- The Packers have been one of the better teams late in the season -- winning five of their last six games. But after starting 3-4, their hole has been a deep one to climb out of. While the emotion of rallying around Brett Favre makes them dangerous, to date the only playoff teams they have beaten are the Vikings and Seattle -- teams they're fighting to beat out in Week 17. If not for losses to Arizona and Detroit, Green Bay would be in charge of their own destiny instead of looking for help.
* SEATTLE -- If they could get teams into Seattle, they would do great, but they're 1-6 on the road and that win was vs. the Cardinals in their first road game of the year. Since a 5-1 start, they've slipped to 4-5 in the last nine games and must win on the road at San Francisco to keep the Vikings and Packers from assuring playoff spots.

So, for all the Vikings fans who have lionized their team early, written them off for dead in early December and are now piling back on the bandwagon, consider this: As long as the Vikings can avoid going into St. Louis, there's nothing any other team in the NFC playoffs has better going for it right now. There is no dominant team in the NFC this year -- St. Louis is as close as it comes. Before you sell the Vikes short, remember that fans for all other teams have the same worries ... and the Rams still have Mike Martz to botch things up.

Viking Update Top Stories