In the Driver's Seat

Thanks to three straight wins and four of the last five, the Vikings have become one of the hot properties in the NFL and, dare we say, starting to look like a favorite to make the playoffs.

Thanks to the world of 24-hour NFL coverage, there are always storylines to talk about. Add a new storyline to the mix – the Vikings as potential playoff favorites.

With Sunday's destruction of the Lions, the Vikings find themselves in a three-way tie for the second wild-card spot with Detroit and the Cardinals. Thanks to bad luck or self-inflicted defeats, the Bears, Redskins, Saints and Eagles all failed in their attempts to join the Vikings, Lions and Cards at 6-6, leaving the Vikings at the head of the class in terms of being playoff favorites.

The Lions are clearly in free-fall, having lost four straight games since starting the season 6-2, and the other contenders all look to have their own set of problems that can hold them back. But the Vikings, who are one of the hottest teams in the leagues all of the sudden, are becoming the gleam of every NFL analyst's eye.

And why not? Only the Patriots and Cowboys have a better record than the Vikings' 4-1 mark over the last five games. Adrian Peterson's return has people looking at the Vikings as one of the few teams in the league that has a legitimate double threat at running back. The defense is tightening up against the pass. And perhaps best of all, Tarvaris Jackson is managing the game and not making too many critical mistakes.

There is reason for Vikings fans to be looking at a potential run to the playoffs and there's no question the 24-hour talking heads will let us know those reasons in the coming days and weeks. While the modern era of the NFL has become much more of a pass-friendly attack where a great quarterback and solid receivers can overcome a sub-standard running game, the old-school NFL mentality dictates that if you want to win in January, you have to do two things – be able to run the ball effectively and be able to stop the run on defense.

If those were the only two parameters, the Vikings would be the favorites to win the Super Bowl. Even with a knee brace, Adrian Peterson is being referred to in some circles as Purple Jesus for his ability to do everything expect walk on water. Defensively, the Williams Wall has remained almost impenetrable and the Vikings defense remains at the top of the league in that category.

If you remember, even after getting out to a 6-1 or 7-1 start, there were those who had doubts the Packers could be a legit Super Bowl team because of the lack of a consistent running game. But with the emergence of Ryan Grant as a rushing threat, the Packers have more believers. The reason for the doubt was because they didn't have a running game that could take over games and eat up clock when the team had a lead. That hasn't been a problem for the Vikings. On the other side of the coin, the Vikings are near the bottom of the pass defense standings, quite simply because teams abandon the run. While it isn't always a precursor to victory, making an offense one-dimensional is a key predictor for success.

While QBs like Tom Brady and Brett Favre have sliced up the Vikings defense by passing non-stop, by and large, that is a recipe for disaster. A tipped pass or a forced pass there leads to turnovers and that is what the Vikings defense is designed to do.

As we head down the final quarter of the 2007 regular season, the Vikings have their own destiny in hand. Of their four remaining opponents, three of them have a record of 5-7 and the other is 3-9. If that isn't room to make a difference, what is?

Of the teams in the NFC, five of them have a record a 4-1 or better over the last five. Four of them – the Cowboys, Packers, Buccaneers and Seahawks – appear to be locks for the playoffs. The fifth is the Vikings. Can they be far behind in that conversation?

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