Vikings Cautious About Playoff Praise

Three weeks ago, the Vikings were thought to have no shot at the playoffs. Now that they are in the thick of a playoff chase, the players are taking a week-by-week approach and one player even refuses to say the team has turned a corner for the better. See what numerous players had to say about their renewed chances at the playoffs and just how muddled that picture is getting.

Somewhere in the background, you almost get the impression you can hear the faint strains of Jim Mora screeching the instant-classic phrase, "Playoffs? Playoffs?"

Less than three weeks after the Vikings were left for dead on the turf of Lambeau Field, entering Sunday's game with the Lions, the Vikings are not only alive but kicking. In the suddenly weakened wild card races, the Lions still hold the No. 2 spot. But no less than five teams – the Vikings, Eagles, Redskins, Bears, Cardinals and Saints – are all tied at 5-6 just one game behind Detroit. More bizarre still is that, if the ball falls right Sunday, by the time the day ends, there could be seven NFC teams tied at 6-6 – with the Vikings right in the middle of the pack.

"That's how life goes in the NFL," Vikings center Matt Birk said of the sudden rash of parity. "A couple of weeks ago, there weren't too many people outside this locker room that thought we could turn things around and start winning games. Now we've put ourselves back into a position to beat Detroit and put ourselves closer to where we're looking to get."

While Birk blanched at the mere mention of the word "playoffs" – he was quite insistent the team isn't looking any farther than Detroit – the reality is that the 2007 landscape has changed incredibly from the start of November to the end of the month. After seven games of the season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were 3-4 and a game behind the 4-3 Carolina Panthers. Now the Bucs have a two-game lead in the NFC South at 7-4 and the Panthers are wallowing at 4-7. Through the eighth game of the season, the Lions were 6-2 and the Redskins were 5-3. Now those two teams are 6-5 and 5-6 respectively.

Fortunes can change dramatically in the NFL in a short period of time and the Vikings are on the good side of those changes. Three teams in the NFC – Philadelphia, Washington and Arizona – all had a chance to win last week to join the Lions at 6-5. All three lost. While the Vikings can claim they aren't looking at potential tie-breaker scenarios already, it's hard to believe that they don't.

"Maybe you look at where other teams are after a week is over, but we don't really pay too much attention to what they're doing," linebacker Chad Greenway said. "All we can do is focus on Detroit this week and let the rest of it take care of itself."

With last week's win over the Giants, the Vikings beat their first quality NFC opponent. Coming in at 7-3, people were saying the Giants were likely the third-best team in the conference behind Dallas and Green Bay. With the beatdown the Vikings gave them in every facet of the game last week, many of those same self-proclaimed experts have jumped off the Giants bandwagon in a hurry.

While the Vikings are riding their first two-game winning streak in more than a year, many of the players believe that they're still a long way from being in the thick of the playoff chase.

"I don't think we've turned a corner as a team," safety Dwight Smith said. "We're 5-6. There are a lot of teams that are better. We have won a couple of games and played like we know we can, but we have to do a lot better before you can say we've turned a corner. We're getting better, but we have to keep it up every week."

While Smith doesn't believe the Vikings have proved enough yet to be in the discussion of playoff teams, one things some of the players do agree on is that the Vikings team that got beaten down three weeks ago by the Packers isn't the same team that has played the last two weeks.

"I think the Green Bay game was a turning point for us," linebacker Ben Leber said. "We had lost games earlier in the year that you could point back to a couple of plays here or there that if we made them we could have won those games. The Packers game was different. We got beat in every facet of the game and there weren't two or three plays that would have made it a different result. We had to take a hard look at ourselves after that game and I think all of us have played with a lot more focus since then."

So with the Vikings at least in the discussion for a potential playoff berth, can they keep the ball rolling and knock the Lions back to the pack and make it a four-game dash for the cash in the postseason? If they maintain their current plan of attack, it could sure make fans and media types start checking the tie-breaker possibilities even if the Vikings players don't.

"We came into the Oakland game saying we had to go 1-0 that week," Birk said. "We said the same thing last week against the Giants. We're saying the same thing next week. If those add up to us being a playoff team, so be it. We're not watching what other teams are doing. All we can control is what we do. As long as we keep that in perspective and just focus on playing our best against Detroit, what will happen is going to happen regardless."

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