The Vikings have now dropped three of their last four and that’s simply not the way a playoff bound team performs down the homestretch. The NFL odds last week, over at Sportsbook Review, showed Minnesota as three-point underdogs to Seattle but unfortunately, the final score was not nearly that close. The Vikings entered Week 14 as an upper-tier defense whose passing yards allowed ranked No. 5 in the league, something they improved upon in Seattle by allowing the least yards ever thrown in Russell Wilsons career, but despite that when the dust settled, Seattle ran all over the Minny run-stop unit and 214 rushing yards later the Seahawks came away with a 21-7 victory.
After 13 games, the Vikings stand at a pedestrian 6-6-1 yet would still cop a wildcard berth if the season ended today. That is the residue of playing in the NFC, a conference with three powerhouses in the Rams, Saints, and Bears and a pair of surging teams in the Cowboys and Seahawks. That leaves one available playoff spot and right now it belongs to the Vikings. But if Minnesota is to maintain their tenuous hold on the last available postseason berth, the offense must deliver points and take advantage in the red zone.
“Part of it is being better on third downs. We haven’t really done a good job there. Part of it is being better in the red zone,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “We had the ball on the 2-yard line and didn’t score.”
That pretty much sums it up. The three remaining games on Minnesota’s regular season slate are favorable but by no means guaranteed. This week they welcome the Miami Dolphins, a team that is fresh off of an upset victory over their divisional rivals from New England. A quick check of the NFL odds sees that the best online sportsbooks are offering Minnesota as eight-point home favorites and rightfully so if the Vikings can get their offense back on track. Miami ranks 22nd in point production but before you rejoice, understand that the Vikings are only a few clicks above at No. 20, averaging 21.7 points per game. Not enough to be a threat to the caliber of opponent they will face in the postseason.
After what we will assume (for the sake of argument, not reality, obviously) is a win over Miami, a trip to Motown to face the Lions is next on the docket. In their previous meeting, Minnesota blistered Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford with 10 sacks en route to a 24-9 victory. The Vikings defense paralyzed the Lions attack, limiting Stafford to a paltry 199 yards and no touchdowns. That is the kind of effort that will be needed again at Ford Field if the Vikings are to sweep the season series with their divisional foe.
The final game of the season will be against the current NFC North leaders, the Chicago Bears. You may recall, Chicago notched a 25-20 win in their last meeting with Minnesota in mid-November and led from box to wire. Kirk Cousins was a mixed bag with 262 yards passing and two touchdown passes but also tossed a pair of picks in the process. But the glaring weakness was the lack of a running game as the Vikings were held to a grand total of 22 yards on 14 carries. Minnesota was a one trick pony that day and the Bears were never in jeopardy of losing that pivotal divisional tilt.
Mike Zimmer had better devise a more creative game plan if his troops are to have any success in Week 17 and Kirk Cousins better be the guy that was worth all that dough-re-mi when the Minnesota brass spurned Case Keenum and welcomed him into their lovin’ arms. Time will tell.