With two weeks to go in the regular season, a curious thing has happened in Minnesota. The Vikings are an unlikely contender for a postseason spot.
Most Vikings fans can clearly remember the various publications that predicted the Vikings to win five, six, or at the most, seven games. And that number of wins would be a move in the right direction for the franchise. Six months ago I thought an 8-8 season would be a success, and that Ponder would be progressing enough to ease any anxiety about the Vikings not having a franchise-type quarterback.
The Vikings sit at 8-6 so far with hopefully a playoff berth within their grasp, and at worst would end 8-8, so my prediction would hold true. I would love to be wrong. And, the jury is still out on Ponder, but I am hopeful for the young man and encourage many of those anxious fans to have more patience with him.
The Vikings control their own destiny. Win, they're in. However, the difficult part of that is who they play. The Vikings have the most difficult two weeks of any team fighting for the postseason. The Vikings are playing, according to ESPN, the No. 3 and No. 6 ranked teams according to recent Power Rankings; no easy feat even if both games were at the Metrodome. The Vikings are ranked No. 15
To put some perspective on this task, let's look at the matchups remaining for these five teams vying for the 6th spot in the NFC playoffs.
First order is to lay out my prediction for spots one through five in the NFC.
The other five teams in contention for spot No. 6 are: Minnesota, Dallas, Chicago, New York and the Redskins with an asterisk.
Yes, I have the Redskins winning the division, so they are not really a consideration for a wild card spot, but based on the scenarios, I had to include them. They play at Philadelphia, and then are home to the Cowboys. I say they win both games. They have won five games in a row and are playing great ball right now. They have shown they can even do it with Kirk Cousins.
Minnesota: We all know, they play at Houston, then home versus the Packers. As much as I want it to happen, I have to be realistic. I think they'll go 1-1 and finish 9-7. I give them a 40-60 chance of winning at Houston and it is not based so much on the Vikings as it is the Texans. Houston is not only playing for a bye, but No. 1 seed. That is a lot to play for given they have the Colts for their last game, and would like nothing more than to get a re-match with the Patriots on home turf.
Chicago: The Bears are in a tail spin, but the schedule gods may be shining on the Bears just in time. They play both games on the road, but against teams that have underperformed this year; teams that have that look, you know that, "What am I doing for Christmas?" look. The Bears play at Arizona and Detroit. Ironically, the Cardinals pasted the Lions, so who knows what team shows up these last two weeks.
Now, with the Bears recent play they could lose both games, or win both games. This is a tough call, but I say 1-1 and they finish 9-7.
By the way, compare Cutler, a veteran with huge, multiple targets, against Ponder. You might be surprised at the stats and QBR.
New York: The Giants are once again an enigma this year. At the beginning of the year they looked like they were the best team in the NFC. A few weeks later they looked like they couldn't have beaten DIV-III Saint Francis (MN).
The Giants are kind of lucky as well. They play at a struggling Baltimore and are home against the Eagles. Certainly the Ravens can beat the Giants, but the Giants this year have responded after embarrassing losses, and the last five weeks have gone like this: big loss, big win, loss, win, big loss. Big win?
My gut tells me the Giants go 2-0 and go 10-6. But because of divisional record the Redskins will win the division.
Cowboys: I just hate typing that up. Why must we fans endure the Cowboys drama year after year? Anyhow, the Cowjokes have two relatively tough games, home versus the Saints and on the road at the Redskins. I am going to go on record and say the Cowboys lose both games and go 8-8, but more realistically they go 1-1 and wind up 9-7.
So, what does all this mean?
If my predictions hold true the Giants will take the final spot. Again, if the Vikings win out there is no question they certainly deserve it and will be a team to contend with.
If the Vikings do not make the playoffs, it could be said that this season was successful and beyond most people's expectations.
Sure, to not make the playoffs—if that happens—would be disappointing, but imagine all those teams projected to be playoff teams who are already making postseason travel arrangements.
We have seen tremendous strides on defense, saw young stars emerge, witnessed four rookies contribute immediately and clearly have the best running back in the NFL. We became anxiety-ridden about our quarterback, but if he plays well these last two weeks, it should mitigate some issues about the up-and-down year for the second-year starter,
I believe the future bodes well for the Vikings, and I further believe that Ponder will play solid these last two weeks and will be a much-improved quarterback next year. If the Vikings make bold, smart moves in free agency and the draft, this division comes down to the Vikings and Packers next year.
If the sales job and convincing of the players, as well as creative coaching, is something Frazier can continue to put together, then his future is solid as well.
It's the final push, so SKOL VIKES!