Tuesday Reflections: Minnesota Vikings Clarify Playoff Path

The Minnesota Vikings have a shot at making the playoffs. The journey will be difficult, and there will be plenty of opportunity to stumble (always a possibility for our guys in purple). Nevertheless, our Minnesota Vikings have secured back-to-back divisional wins, a feat that helps clarify their playoff path.

The Playoff Path

One thing is clear: the Vikings need to beat the Chicago Bears on Monday. Beating divisional opponents in three consecutive games would be a notable achievement in any season. In a season where we started 1-5, getting three straight divisional wins is pretty much a necessity.

Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that the NFC East’s incompetence continues (it’s where the safe money is, folks). That means one playoff spot will be taken by the division winner, so we’ve got six openings. The NFC South is likely sending two teams to the playoffs — the Saints and Bucs. That brings us down to four remaining spots.

It’s in the NFC West that things get tricky. All four teams have a better record than Minnesota. Seattle — the team the Vikings want to become — is going to make the playoffs, likely by winning the division. As a result, Minnesota has to leapfrog two of the three remaining teams in the NFC West: the Cardinals, Rams, and 49ers. All the injuries in San Francisco makes continued struggle a distinct possibility, so let’s say the Vikings pass San Francisco. The issue now rests in playing well enough to surpass the Cardinals or Rams, who are both 5-3. In this hypothetical scenario, the Vikings would sneak in as a wild card team. It could look something like this:

  1. Seattle
  2. New Orleans
  3. Green Bay
  4. Philadelphia
  5. Tampa Bay
  6. Cardinals
  7. Vikings

As you can see, our scenario doesn’t allow for any division (like the pesky NFC West) to send three teams to the playoffs. That would be the kiss of death. The likeliest path, then, involves Minnesota overtaking the Bears and a couple of teams in the West. If they do, Minnesota may get a shot at that elusive Lombardi Trophy.

Rebuilding at Corner

We’ve previously covered our belief that the Minnesota Vikings’ defense isn’t at a championship level. A large part of the issue, of course, is that there has been huge turnover at corner.

It isn’t just the veterans we lost in the offseason (Mackensie Alexander is the one we should have kept; alas, that ship has sailed). The broader issue has been the crazy amount of injuries. Now, we aren’t going full-blown doom & gloom on this one. Instead, we bring up these thoughts to make the point that Sunday’s game featured solid play from Minnesota’s corners.

Jeff Gladney played the best game of his NFL career. Heck, Gladney even made PFF’s team of the week. I’m sure Mike Zimmer is thrilled. Zimmer aside, Gladney did have a really great game. He was sharp in coverage and his usual excellent self in run defense.

The O-Line’s Progress

We can’t believe we’re writing these words, but here goes nothing: the Minnesota Vikings have a reasonably competent offensive line. We’ll explain by relying on PFF’s rankings since they pretty much illustrate what is evident on Sundays.

Per PFF, Brian O’Neill is the 12th best tackle and Riley Reiff is the 36th best. Keep in mind that there are 32 NFL teams, each with two starting tackles (64 starting spots). In other words, Minnesota has a tier-1 RT and a tier-2 LT.

The interior of the o-line also deserves some love. Garrett Bradbury, God bless him, is 9th overall. He took the big step forward that the Vikings were obviously planning on. Dakota Dozier is ranked 68th overall, meaning that he is far below average. Ezra Cleveland, who apparently doesn’t have enough snaps to get an official ranking, has a 63.2 score. This translates to 40th overall. Cleveland is thus playing like a tier-2 guard, a laudable achievement seeing as how he is a rookie LT playing RG.

All things considered, fans ought to feel encouraged. The Minnesota Vikings’ wins clarify their playoff path. A large part of these wins have stemmed from improvements in the secondary and along the o-line. Onward and upward.

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