A victory over Atlanta last Sunday at the Metrodome would have locked up the NFC North and made this weekend's game against the New York Giants meaningless.
But the Vikings failed to take care of business, fumbling seven times (four lost) in a 24-17 loss to the Falcons, and when the Bears rallied to beat Green Bay on Monday night in Chicago, suddenly the pressure was turned up to high.
The Vikings now will enter their regular-season finale tied with the Bears for first place in the NFC North. However, because the Vikings own the tie-breakers, the only way Minnesota won't win the North is if it loses to the Giants and Chicago wins at Houston.
If both Minnesota and Chicago lose or win, then the Vikings clinch the title. We won't even get into what happens if there is a tie added to the mix.
"We have everything to play for and have to rely on no one else, which is exactly what you want," Vikings kicker Ryan Longwell said.
While Sunday's game will be of great importance to the Vikings, that won't be the case for the Giants. New York beat Carolina in overtime last Sunday night to clinch the top-seed in the NFC, meaning they have a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
It isn't certain yet how Giants coach Tom Coughlin will approach this game in terms of playing his regulars. Running back Brandon Jacobs (left knee), defensive linemen Justin Tuck (right ankle) and Fred Robbins (shoulder) and cornerback Aaron Ross (concussion) are candidates to be rested because of injury.
But Coughlin could take it another step and limit quarterback Eli Manning and others. Vikings coach Brad Childress isn't counting on that type of help and expects Coughlin to have his team go all-out.
"I absolutely do," Childress said. "That's how Tom's wired. You saw him play all those guys last year against New England. He has a couple of weeks off. ... You want to win and play your best so that when you do take that little time off, you leave with a good taste in your mouth."
Childress' reference was to the fact that Coughlin played his regulars in the 16th game last season despite the fact the Giants had sewn up a wild card berth. The difference there was New York had an opportunity to hand New England its only loss of the season. The Giants lost that game, 38-35, but took the confidence and momentum into the playoffs and ended up beating the Patriots in the Super Bowl.
Running the Vikings offense in this high-pressure situation will be third-year quarterback Tarvaris Jackson. Jackson has played very well since taking over for the injured Gus Frerotte near the end of the first half on Dec. 7 at Detroit.
Jackson completed 22 of 36 passes for 233 yards with two touchdowns, no interceptions and a 98.5 passer rating against the Falcons.
Frerotte has recovered from a broken bone in his back but Childress has elected to stick with Jackson.
SERIES HISTORY: 20th regular-season meeting. Vikings lead the series, 11-8, but are 1-2 against the Giants in the postseason. The Vikings have won the past two meetings (2005 and 2007) with both games being played at Giants Stadium.
Even if the Vikings make the playoffs, Williams is expected to miss at least the first playoff game. He expressed optimism last week that he might be able to play in the Vikings' postseason opener, but it's estimated that he would miss at least a month.
Williams was injured in the Vikings' 35-14 victory on Dec. 14 in Arizona.
BY THE NUMBERS: 2 — Rushing yards Adrian Peterson needs to become only the fifth player in NFL history to rush for 3,000 yards in his first two seasons in the league.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We know the Giants want to end the season with a win. I know Coach Coughlin doesn't lay down for anything. They're going to try and win. I feel they're going to approach this week just like any other week. They'll come in fired up and with a good game plan. We have to be ready for that." — Vikings tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, who played for Giants coach Tom Coughlin in New York from 2004 to 2006.