Vikings Likely Still Playoff Bound

The Vikings have stubbed their toes a few times in the last month, but looking at the overall NFC playoff picture, that's hardly unique to them. Mike Tice's squad is still a frontrunner for the playoffs and maybe even the division title.

For nervous Vikings fans, the weekly state of the team assessments by the local and national media have been little consolation. With only the woeful 49ers eliminated from playoff contention, even the handful of teams with 5-7 records can make legitimate claims to being playoff bound.

But the reality of the situation is that for the Vikings to miss the playoffs, they will likely have to lose three of their four remaining games. Of course, that isn't the plan — the Vikings want to win out, finish 11-5 and be at home in the first round of the playoffs — making their loss to the Bears even more painful considering the option was still open to be the conference's No. 2 seed.

While a 2-2 finish would be viewed by many as a "worst-case scenario," it appears that is all that will be required. The Rams and Seahawks are 6-6 and the Vikings and Packers are 7-5. Two of those teams will win their division and the other two are the frontrunners for the wild cards, which leaves a half-dozen 5-7 teams chasing them down.

For any of them to reach 9-7 for the season, they will have to win their final four games. That's looking pretty difficult at this point. The frontrunners for consideration are the Panthers and Bucs, but they play each other (which will eliminate one) and neither has a cakewalk down the stretch. The Eagles can do their part in Week 15 by beating the Cowboys and ending their 9-7 pipe dream. The Lions and Bears play each other, which will eliminate one of them and both still have to play the Packers before all is said and done. That leaves the Giants, who will have to find a way to beat the Ravens and the Steelers to remain alive.

While the Vikings' focus is still firmly on winning the division title, you have to look at Plan B at some point. We have and, if the Vikings collapse badly enough not to make the playoffs, heads will likely roll. Even a 2-3 closing wheeze (counting Sunday's loss at Chicago) will be enough to get in the dance.

* There are some growing concerns that retirement may have to be an option for LB Raonall Smith, who has been sidelined for more than a month with headaches and memory-loss episodes following his second concussion in November.
* The Seahawks that the Vikings face may be desperate after having blown a 17-point lead in the final minutes to the Rams earlier this year and blown a pair of double-digit leads in the fourth quarter to Dallas Monday.
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