Vikings Enter the Last Chance Saloon

Last Chance Saloon.

We enter Week 6 of the NFL season and the slim hopes that the Minnesota Vikings will have a competitive year hang in the balance. The Vikings enter the last chance saloon as they embark on a road trip to Chicago to face the Chicago Bears. A 1-4 start to the season is an improbable position to attain playoff football come January. If that becomes a 1-5 start, it basically becomes impossible.

Vikings Enter the Last Chance Saloon

The Bears represent the Vikings first divisional game of the season. It feels late in the season for that, but that’s how the schedule has panned out. Having six division games left on the schedule does give the Vikings a bit more scope to mount a comeback. The Bears also sit with a 1-4 record, and the Packers are at 2-3.

However, the Lions are making good on their preseason hype, sitting at 4-1, but they do have tough trips to Baltimore, LA (Chargers), and Dallas left on the schedule. Unless the Lions collapse from this position, it looks like their division for the taking. There’s still a lot of football to be played, however.

Enter the Last Chance
Sep 14, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell in the tunnel against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports.

If the Vikings are going to somehow find playoff contention, then that has to start with a win this week.

Anything less than victory, and the door slams shut on any playoff hopes for this season. That task became much more complicated with Tuesday’s announcement that Justin Jefferson will miss at least the next four games with a hamstring injury. To mount the unlikely comeback the Vikings need requires the team to be at their best. Trying to do that, minus the star player, feels doubtful. Time will tell.

Flashbacks of 2020

Minnesota was in the same position in 2020 when they went to Seattle with a 1-4 record and lost 27-26 to fall to 1-5. After a bye week, the Vikings returned and won five of the next six games, but the damage had already been done. Losing three of the last four saw Minnesota fall to a 7-9 record and a third-place finish in the division — the Vikings worst finish in the previous six seasons. 

Dec 20, 2020; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Chicago Bears linebacker Robert Quinn (94) sacks and forces a fumble on Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) during the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Despite the poor results of that season, the internal belief in Minnesota was that they were still in a Super Bowl window. They acted accordingly, keeping the team together and pushing for a wildcard place in the playoffs — a hope they kept alive deeper into the season than would have been expected after Week 6. Onlookers often bring up the “tank” when teams are in such a position. Teams will not try to lose, but the decision-makers can switch focus to the future rather than the present.

Consequences of Another Loss

The 2023 Vikings are in the midst of a competitive rebuild. How many losses over the next three games, before the trade deadline on Oct. 31, will it take to accelerate that rebuild? It’s not a scenario the Vikings were expecting to find themselves, but defeat at Soldier Field on Sunday and thoughts of looking ahead to next season become very real. A win will keep the Vikings interested, but it’s hard to see this Vikings team beating the 49ers — who look like the best team in football right now. Then, the Vikings travel to Lambeau Field to face the Packers.

Sep 24, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings fans react during the third quarter against the Los Angeles Chargers at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The Vikings must win two of the following three games to keep the season alive. If they fail to do so, then they should be sellers at the trade deadline.

Who should be available via trade at that point? All eyes will be on Kirk Cousins, but with a no-trade clause in place and a contract winding down, it will take the right team, in the right circumstances, that either needs a short-term answer at QB to compete this season or is willing to bring in Cousins early and offer him a significant contract extension. Those exact circumstances are perhaps nonexistent at the moment, with the possible exception of the Atlanta Falcons.

There are other names that the Vikings may or may not want to look at trading. First, we go to Chicago and see if Minnesota can keep their season alive, even if it is by the barest of threads.