Vikings Encounter a New Obstacle as Playoff Push Hits Final Stretch
How does 7-7 and firmly in control of one’s own playoff destiny sound?
Probably not too bad, especially given what transpired in the season’s opening weeks. An 0-3 record gave way to a 1-4 record and then no shortage of despair in Minnesota. Seeing Justin Jefferson lost to the IR was simply the cherry on top of the world’s worst sundae.
These early obstacles, though, didn’t sink the ship. Yes, the waters were choppy and more than a few fans debated the merits of tossing players overboard at the trade deadline, but Kwesi Adofo-Mensah decided to stand pat as Kevin O’Connell got things back on course.
The season is now entering the final stretch. Only a trio of games remain. For the Vikings, all three will take place against division rivals. Failing to snag at least a couple more wins will likely lead to losing hold of the #6 spot in the NFC.
Vikings Encounter a New Obstacle: The LA Rams
In 2021, Kevin O’Connell helped LA to win a Super Bowl. Since then, LA hasn’t done quite as well. The 2022 season featured a 5-12 record and the 2023 outlook didn’t look too much better.
Seeing the Rams in a playoff spot with just three games remaining is going to catch many by surprise. After all, LA is a team that went into their Week 10 bye with a 3-6 record, seemingly confirming the belief that the losses of players like Jalen Ramsey, Von Miller, and Andrew Whitworth were just too much to overcome.
Since the bye, though, things have gone very differently. LA is 4-1 over their last five games, putting them in the NFC’s #7 spot. The Vikings are thus dealing with a new team that’s trying to chase them down from directly behind them in the standings.
Sean McVay is leading the NFL’s 9th-best offense by averaging 23.4 points per game. The emergence of players like Kyren Williams and Puka Nacua have coalesced with the abilities of veterans like Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp to create a formidable group.
And the wild thing is that LA’s Week 16 opponent is the New Orleans Saints. Critically, the Saints are another NFC team that has a 7-7 record. Josh Frey breaks down the implications in a piece for PurplePTSD: “This weekend, the Rams and Saints are set to face off at SoFi Stadium, so one of these teams will be 8-7 by the end of Christmas Eve (unless we see our first tie of the season), meaning the Vikings absolutely need to win against the Lions in order to remain ahead of both teams in the standings.”
Catch that final portion? A Vikings loss means Minnesota drops down a spot in the playoff hunt. Those are the stark implications that arise when Minnesota drops winnable games to Denver, Chicago, and Cincinnati in recent weeks.
The Rams appear to be the most formidable threat for the NFC’s #6 spot, but there’s also the presence of the Saints at 7-7. The saving grace with New Orleans is simply that Minnesota has a head-to-head tiebreaker with them. Furthermore, the Buccaneers possess the same record, but they’re sitting in the inaccessible (to the Vikings, anyhow) playoff slot that’s reserved for the NFC South victor.
Seeing things get even more muddled would involve a Seahawks win over the Eagles on Monday Night Football. In that scenario, the Vikings would be one of five teams with a 7-7 record, and that’s with the Packers being alive at 6-8.
The good news, folks, is that Minnesota remains in control of their own destiny regardless of what happens with the Rams resurgence (or any other team in the conference).
Even after the overtime defeat, the Vikings still maintain full control of their capacity to make the playoffs. True, the NFC North crown now requires a little luck, but the same can’t be said for a Wild Card spot. Just three wins would mean Minnesota is in.
The Vikings understand, though, that their margin for error is growing insanely thin. The Rams are lurking as the NFC’s #7 team, meaning Minnesota must be sharp.
A Dream Free Agency Add for the Vikings
K. Joudry is the Senior Editor for Vikings Territory and PurplePTSD. He has been covering the Vikings full time since the summer of 2021. He can be found on Twitter and as a co-host for Notes from the North, a humble Vikings podcast.