While the Minnesota Vikings sat idly during their Week 10 bye, the rest of the league played out its 14-game slate.
Here are some takeaways from the latest round of games that might impact the Purple.
That tie in Green Bay? Take it.
Daniel Carlson’s missed field goals in overtime back in Week 2 cost the Vikings a win and a 2-0 start at the time. Put that aside, however, and view it this way: the Vikings are the only team not to lose at Lambeau Field this season.
Green Bay scored 17 unanswered points in the second half to beat the Miami Dolphins on Sunday for one of their most convincing victories of the season, moving them to 4-4-1. At the moment, they are the only team within a game of the Vikings for the final playoff spot in the NFC. Minnesota is one of just six teams above .500 in the conference after Sunday’s results left Dallas, Philadelphia, Seattle and Atlanta at 4-5, essentially 1.5 games behind Minnesota.
The Vikings might be able to bury the Packers on Nov. 25 when they play them at home with the tiebreaker going to the winning team. Green Bay, to this point, is winless on the road.
Even though Chicago won again (which we’ll get to), the Vikings’ playoff hopes arguably got stronger Sunday.
Don’t mess with the Bears at home.
Speaking of tough NFC North teams at home, take a look at Minnesota’s next opponent, the Chicago Bears, who are now 4-1 at Soldier Field with their only loss against the New England Patriots because a Hail Mary came up a yard short.
Playing their first NFC game since Sept. 30, Chicago shellacked division rival Detroit 34-22 to move to 6-3. Second-year quarterback Mitch Trubisky continues to get into a comfort zone. His home stats: 15 TDs, 4 INTs, 292 yards per game, 111.6 QB rating. He’s also rushed for 227 yards in those five games.
The Vikings have beaten the Bears at Soldier Field with each of their last two division title teams, but they needed last-second field goals to accomplish both wins against Bears teams that weren’t very good.
Next Sunday night there will be plenty at stake for both sides with the winner claiming a temporary NFC North lead.
After Carolina’s huge loss to Pittsburgh, New Orleans’ convincing win over Cincinnati and Los Angeles’ narrow win against Seattle, the NFC’s elite are beginning to pull away from the field.
The Saints (8-1) remain a half game back of the Rams (9-1), but New Orleans owns the head to head tiebreaker. The Panthers, Redskins and Bears are all two games back of New Orleans, a juggernaut that isn’t showing any signs of slowing down with eight consecutive wins. It’s possible the Saints and Rams duke it out through Week 17 for the conference’s top seed.
As for the Vikings, their head-to-head losses against the Rams and Saints have them in position to battle for seeds three through six rather than get the coveted week of rest they enjoyed last year. It’s more likely the Vikings end up rooting for the Saints to beat the Panthers when they play them in Weeks 15 and 17.
How about that December schedule?
The Vikings have five games in the month of December that will decide their season, and the closer the schedule gets to the new year, the more — or in many cases, less — teams will have to play for. Here’s where those five teams might be when their meeting with the Vikings comes around:
New England (vs Vikings, Dec. 2): Vulnerable yet desperate. The Patriots suffered a bad loss to the Tennessee Titans to kick off a stretch of four out of five on the road, and they are no longer a top two seed in the AFC. Their game against the Vikings is their lone home respite in over a month of games, and they’ll likely have plenty for which to play.
Seattle (vs Vikings, Dec. 10): Fading. Seattle has twice come close to knocking off the nearly-unbeatable Rams, but failed. Now they are stuck in the 4-5 logjam in the fledgling NFC. With tough games against the Packers and Panthers to come, the Seahawks could have seven losses by the time they face the Vikings on that Monday night.
Dolphins (@ Vikings, Dec. 16): Unintimidating. The Dolphins have come back to the pack after a 3-0 start, losing five of eight and sitting squarely at an uninspiring .500 record. Ryan Tannehill is still on the shelf with Brock Osweiler filling in. Regardless of who is playing quarterback, neither option should feel comfortable against the Vikings’ front four when they play in mid-December.
Lions (vs Vikings, Dec. 23): Likely eliminated. Detroit has laid two straight eggs in division games, which has fans unhappy with new coach Matt Patricia. Barring a five-game winning streak, the Lions are unlikely to be playing for anything more than pride in the season’s penultimate week.
Bears (@ Vikings, Dec. 30): For all the marbles? What seems to be a nearly-annual Week 17 meeting should have enhanced meaning this year as two playoff contenders meet in the season’s final week. A lot will happen between now and Dec. 30, but the NFC North crown could be at stake, especially considering Chicago’s relatively easy schedule down the stretch.