Coming out of their bye week, the Minnesota Vikings faced an immediate hurdle in the Seattle Seahawks. Not only were the Seahawks a team that had been playing well at home, but they were also one of the many NFC teams that potentially stood between the Vikings and a return trip to the playoffs in 2006.
With their victory over the Seahawks, the Vikings not only improved to 4-2 overall, they improved to 4-1 against NFC competition. That, in and of itself, is significant even at the one-third point of the regular season. With a 4-1 record against the NFC, the Vikings are tied with the New Orleans Saints and the New York Giants with the second best Conference record in the NFC. That essentially places Minnesota at the top of potential wild-card teams--should that be Minnesota's lot in 2006--since the Giants and Saints currently lead their respective divisions.
Even more significant, however, is that Minnesota has a better Conference record than the teams most closely on their heals in the race for a wild card. And, whether on the basis of head to head record or multiple team tie-breakers, Minnesota is favored even more by the fact that they have already beaten two Conference foes currently fighting for a wild-card spot in Seattle and Carolina.
Beyond the games already in the books, there are the games yet to be played. And, as the Vikings' future competition currently is playing, the Vikings appear to have a fairly soft remaining schedule after Monday's game against the AFC's New England Patriots. After the game against the Patriots, the Vikings face five teams currently possessing a losing record (with two games against Green Bay for a total of six games against teams with losing records) and face only one reasonably certain playoff team in Chicago.
But that doesn't do justice to just how bad most of the Vikings' remaining competition will be after the New England game. The combined records of the Vikings' remaining opponents after the New England game is an unbelievably rancid 23-35. Subtract Chicago's perfect 6-0 record and that ratio is reduced to 17-35. Subtract the Jets' smoke and mirrors 4-3 record and St. Louis' begging 4-2 record and the Vikings play six games against teams with a combined record of 7-26.
It doesn't get much easier than that in the NFL. And that's why even a modestly competent Vikings' team has to be considered a virtual lock to win at least ten games this season and, with any measure of offensive consistency, arguably could run the table or win 13 games.
Does that mean that the Vikings are unbeatable. Far from it. It simply means that the Vikings have a very soft schedule after New England with only the Chicago game being any meaningful measurement game. If Minnesota had games remaining at San Diego, the Giants, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Indianapolis, and Denver, that would be a concern. But, through the quirks of the schedule, a weak division, and a weak AFC East--with no apologies to Buffalo--the Vikings are on course to return to the playoffs. And they may yet return as division champions.
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