Vikings Playoff Picture Not So Bleak

Having just ended a four-game skid, it might be a surprise that the Vikings are still in the thick of the playoff hunt. In fact, their conference record helps put them currently in seventh place in a six-team playoff format. See how it breaks down and what the coach and players have to say about it.

The Vikings are trying to stick to the theme of looking strictly at their next opponent, but after breaking a four-game losing streak with a win over Arizona, they find themselves right in the thick of the playoff race.

"Overall, just good to get back in the win column," head coach Brad Childress said earlier this week after the Arizona game. "You want to get on a roll here and play your best ball in December."

With a 5-6 record and five games ahead of them in December, Childress at least admits to knowing which opponents the Vikings have left on the schedule.

The Vikings travel to Chicago and Detroit – both NFC North divisional games – before hosting the New York Jets, traveling to Green Bay for another NFC North game and finishing out the regular season against the St. Louis Rams on New Years Eve day at the Metrodome.

"I know how many are NFC, AFC, how many are division, but I think all that stuff plays itself out. For me to look at all the matches, ‘If we do that, they do that,' I mean those are all ifs. The best way we can serve ourselves is to play well this week and beat the Bears," Childress said.

That's true, a win against the Bears may not end up being necessary, but it certainly would go a long way in their bid to make the playoffs – even if, as expected, the Vikings enter the game as a longshot.

At 9-2, the Bears are the easy frontrunners to win the division, as the Vikings' 5-6 record is next-best in the division after Green Bay's loss to Seattle Monday night dropped the Packers to 4-7. The Bears also have a two-game lead in the conference.

The other division leaders are Dallas (7-4) in the East, New Orleans (7-4) in the South, and Seattle (7-4) in the West.

But there are only two other teams in the conference with winning records – the stumbling New York Giants (6-5) and the Carolina Panthers (6-5).

The Vikings are currently seeded seventh in the conference, with six teams making the playoffs. Philadelphia, Atlanta, St. Louis and San Francisco all have 5-6 records, the same as the Vikings, but with a 5-3 conference record, the Vikings are a half-game game up on Philadelphia (4-3) and at one full conference win ahead of St. Louis (4-4), San Francisco (4-4) and Atlanta (3-4).

However, San Francisco already has the first tie-breaker – head-to-head matchups – for a wild card spot over the Vikings after the 49ers' 9-3 win over Minnesota at Monster Park. The Vikings' game against St. Louis on New Year's Eve day could decide their playoff fate.

For now, however, the Vikings are just happy to be in the thick of the playoff hunt, which would seem like a surprising development after just breaking a four-game losing streak.

"I'm never surprised by anything in this league. Honestly, I haven't even watched SportsCenter or seen what happened (Sunday)," said eight-year veteran offensive lineman Mike Rosenthal. "I'm never surprised by anything, when a so-called underdog beats a top team. Anything can happen, you have injuries or you turn the ball over of just don't play well.

"You just want to concentrate on your locker room. After a four-game streak, you just want to get out of the skid or out of the funk and just win one."

Coming off of their best game on offense, the Vikings have to wonder how their playoff fate might be a bit more secured had they not lost any one of several close conference games – that 9-3 loss in San Francisco, a late fumble in the fourth quarter that helped the Bears score late in the fourth quarter to beat the Vikings 19-16, or even a 23-17 loss to Green Bay.

"We lost some games where we didn't play as well as we'd like," said guard Jason Whittle.

Childress isn't one who likes to look at hypothetical scenarios, and he doesn't seem inclined to admit analyzing the playoff picture at this point. In fact, he said there isn't a point he'd look at the rest of the NFC.

‘No, I don't think so. Somebody usually is talking out there, but that's all elevator music to me," he said.

Which is why he may like to hear what middle linebacker Napoleon Harris had to say about their important matchup with the Bears on Sunday.

"I think every game is season-changing because the more you win the bigger it gets. We were on a four-game skid and got the win on Sunday, so the next one becomes the next biggest game," Harris said. "Definitely they're more important because it's a divisional game."

And a conference game that could have a huge impact on tie-breaking procedures in the fight for a wild card spot in the playoffs.

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