Playoffs Start Today

The Vikings are one of the hottest teams, but can't afford a slip-up this week or they could face playoff elimination.

The scenarios for the playoffs will come into much clearer focus after this week's games, but the Vikings remain on the outside looking in at the playoff party, despite the numbers being pared back.

Unfortunately, the team has tie-breaker troubles with everybody they're running up against. Barring a Bears loss to the Packers, even if the Vikings make up the one game they currently trail the Bears by, Chicago would have the tie-breaker edge due to a better record vs. their 14 common opponents.

The Giants are the only team the Vikings have a head-to-head tie-breaker advantage on, so their win over the Chiefs Saturday moved them to 9-5 and keeps the Vikings in chase mode. With two remaining road games vs. the Redskins and Raiders, the G-Men could be difficult to catch. If New York wins its division, the Cowboys come back into the wild card mix. Dallas has tough road games as Washington and Carolina and will close the season at home vs. the Rams -- who already appear to be packing it in. Going 2-1 is definitely possible, so having two teams with 10 or more wins looks like a distinct possibility in the NFC East.

The bigger problem will be the NFC South. Of the three teams in contention, all have a win over the Vikings and would beat them in the head-to-head tie-breaker. The Panthers are in first at 9-4 and with games at New Orleans, vs. Dallas and at Atlanta, even if they go 1-2 in those games, they would finish 10-6 -- forcing the Vikings to run the table to beat them. Atlanta, which is tied with the Vikings at 8-5, has the toughest road -- with road games at Chicago and Tampa Bay before closing out the season at home vs. the Panthers. Tampa has already played its 14th game and sits at 9-5. With two home games remaining vs. the Falcons and Saints, one win would put them at 10-6 and holding a tie-breaker edge on the Vikings.

As complicated as it may seem, it likely won't get any easier this week to determine how the Vikings get in. But one thing is simple -- the Vikings have to keep winning. Along the way, they also have to become fans of the teams playing against the Bears, Giants, Bucs and Falcons and hope that two of the three fall on their face. Unless they do, the Vikings' impressive late-season run may be too little, too late.

* The record of the teams during the Vikings six-game winning streak is a combined 24-41 with only the Giants having a winning record.
* In the last six games, the Vikings have forced 22 turnovers and allowed just 15.5 points per game.
* Steelers RB Willie Parker has three fumbles in his last two games.
* The Vikings still haven't been able to improve their overall unit rankings out of the lower third of the league. The Vikings are 25th in total offense -- 23rd rushing and 21st passing -- and 26th on defense -- 17th vs. the run and 24th vs. the pass. The Steelers have the 20th-ranked offense (9th rushing and 24th passing) and the 8th ranked defense (4th vs. the run and 21st vs. the pass).
* The Steelers are 20-6 in the regular season in December-January games since 2000.
* Darren Sharper has 39 interceptions since the start of the 2000 season -- 11 more than any other player in the league.
* The Vikings have won six straight home games vs. AFC opponents.
* The Vikings are 5-1 at home this season (the only loss on opening day) and the Steelers are 4-2 on the road.
* The Steelers have played just two indoor games in the last three years, but made some noise in their last one -- a Monday night loss to the Colts Nov. 28. The Steelers accused the Colts of piping in crowd noise and pointing the speaker toward their bench. All 32 NFL teams received a memo from the league office saying there would be severe penalties for any team that piped in noise during games.
* The Steelers have played in the Metrodome just once -- a 31-7 blowout win by the Vikings in 1986 -- when WR Troy Williamson was three years old.

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