Just over a month ago, the Minnesota Vikings fell to the then-winless Atlanta Falcons at home to enter the bye week at 1-5 for the season. Playoff hopes had faded after an extremely disappointing start to the season.
Maybe a bye week is exactly what this team needed to get things back on track. Minnesota has rattled off three straight wins since then, all of them against NFC North opponents and two of them on the road. More importantly, the Vikings are firmly back in the hunt for a playoff spot in the NFC, a scenario that seemed impossible just a few weeks ago.
The brutal start to the season means the Vikings will most likely need some help from other teams in order to earn a playoff berth. But after the Arizona Cardinals loss on Thursday night to the Seattle Seahawks, Minnesota can move within one game of the No. 7 playoff seed with a win over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.
The Week 11 slate includes several games that will have an impact on Minnesota’s playoff positioning. Let’s take a look at the matchups and which teams can help Minnesota’s playoff push.
Seattle 28, Arizona 21 (Thursday Night)
Seattle defeated Arizona on Thursday night, which may not seem like a big deal because both teams entered the game 6-3. However, a Seahawks win is better for Minnesota’s playoff push. The Vikings already lost to the Seahawks this season, and therefore they cannot win a tiebreaker against them. Plus, Seattle’s schedule moving forward gets drastically easier: Its next four games are against the Philadelphia Eagles, both New York teams and Washington. Expect Seattle to push ahead in the NFC West against those opponents.
Plus, trying to fight for a playoff spot against a team led by a second-year quarterback in Kyler Murray, despite how electric he has been this season, seems like an easier fight than trying to swipe a playoff spot away from a seasoned vet and MVP-caliber quarterback Russell Wilson.
Eagles at Browns
There’s a good chance this game has little impact on Minnesota’s playoff push because of how putrid the NFC East is. The Eagles are in the driver’s seat of that division, and a loss in this game probably won’t even change that. However, in the unlikely event that a couple of NFC East teams put together a winning streak, a Cleveland Browns win here would marginally help the Vikings.
But playoff scenarios are not the only reason to root for Cleveland. New head coach Kevin Stefanski spent over a decade on Minnesota’s staff, and he has quietly taken the Browns to 6-3 this season despite losing Odell Beckham Jr. for the season. Stefanski famously entered the NFL as an intern with Philadelphia before joining the Vikings, working his way up the ranks before serving as offensive coordinator in 2019.
Now he has a chance to take the Browns to the playoffs for the first time since 2002 in his first season as head coach.
Falcons at Saints
This is an interesting one. On one hand, a Falcons win keeps them alive, and they own the tiebreaker over the Vikings given the result of the game earlier this season. On the other hand, the New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are fighting for that NFC South division, and whichever one of them does not win the division is in position for a wild card spot.
A Falcons win, however, is more beneficial for the Vikings. The Vikings could then get within two games of the Saints, and Minnesota’s Week 16 trip to New Orleans suddenly could have some massive playoff implications.
Plus, rooting against Sean Payton is just more fun. Remember when he did the Skol Chant just minutes before the Minneapolis Miracle? Remember when he ran a trick play up by 11 points with under two minutes remaining against Tampa Bay earlier this season? It’s stuff like this that makes rooting against Payton so much fun.
Start doing so this weekend as Taysom Hill takes over at quarterback for New Orleans.
Lions at Panthers
This game seemingly has little impact on the playoff picture, but the Detroit Lions could sneakily get to 5-5 with a win, which would tie the Vikings — although Minnesota does have the tiebreaker. In games like this, it’s best if the team with the worse record wins in order to provide the Vikings more cushion for their position in the NFC.
Rooting for the Carolina Panthers is also easy when Teddy Bridgewater is the team’s quarterback. Unfortunately, it appears Bridgewater will not suit up against Detroit due to a knee injury.
Don’t fret. Bridgewater’s absence would mean that P.J. Walker would get the start for Carolina. Fans of Spring football may recognize that name, as Walker quickly became a superstar in the short-lived 2020 XFL season.
Walker could electrify the Carolina offense enough to not only add some entertainment value but also sneak past Detroit and help the Vikings out.
Packers at Colts
No-brainer here. While Green Bay’s hold on the NFC North is pretty firm at the moment, a loss to the Indianapolis Colts and a Vikings win against Dallas would drop the Packers to 7-3 and just two games ahead of the Vikings (if Minnesota wins). Plus, the Vikings could wind up winning that tiebreaker over the Packers by the end of the season since they split their regular season matchups.
One element of this game that could be fun is the dynamic of Wisconsin football fans rooting against former Badger Jonathan Taylor. Green Bay’s run defense is notoriously bad, as was on display couple of weeks ago when Minnesota won at Lambeau Field. Taylor could get going early against the Packers and ultimately lead Indianapolis to a win.
Rams at Buccaneers
This is one of those games that will benefit the Vikings regardless because at least one of these teams will lose this week. Given the easy schedule Seattle faces down the stretch, the Los Angeles Rams have a tough road ahead to keep up with the Seahawks and will likely be fighting instead for a wild card spot. This is why a Buccaneers win offers the most benefit for the Vikings.
And of course, Minnesota will travel to Tampa Bay in a few weeks with the opportunity to steal a win from the Bucs as well, an opportunity the Vikings do not have with the Rams.
The Buccaneers are about the closest thing to the Brett Favre-era Vikings as we’ll see. With a good defense already in place and weapons all over on offense, they signed an aging but legendary quarterback to be the missing piece. Vikings fans can relate to how Tampa Bay fans feel right now.
Cowboys at Vikings
Of course, none of this matters unless the Vikings can take care of business at home against the Cowboys. A win would bring the Vikings to 5-5 for the season and into the No. 8 seed in the NFC. With seven teams from each conference qualifying for the playoffs, they are absolutely in the thick of the playoff race. But that means taking care of business against lesser teams is essential.