MINNEAPOLIS -- If there's any team that would have historical precedent for a quixotic hope of making the playoffs at 8-8, the Minnesota Vikings technically would fit the bill. Since the NFL went to its current playoff format in 2002, awarding spots to the four division winners and two wild-card teams in each conference, the Vikings are one of three teams to earn a wild-card berth with an 8-8 record. Both they and the St. Louis Rams did it in 2004, and the New York Giants did it in 2006.
So those of you who believe the Vikings can win their last six games, leapfrog 11 teams and make the playoffs can read this post one way. Those of you who are already pining away for the 2014 draft -- and its deep group of quarterbacks -- can read it another way.
The Vikings' six-game finish to their 2013 season is, in a word, formidable. They face just one team with a losing record the rest of the season, and that team -- the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens -- is 4-6, still in the thick of the AFC wild-card race and will play host to the Vikings on Dec. 8. Minnesota hasn't won on the road this season (though the Vikings' victory over the Steelers in London was a home game in name only), and as much as the Ravens have struggled, they've only lost once at home in 2013.
In fact, the Vikings' best shot at a win the rest of this season might come on Sunday against the Green Bay Packers. They will face Scott Tolzien at quarterback, not Aaron Rodgers -- who has carved them up with fierce regularity throughout his career and did so again last month in a 44-31 win. Whoever starts at quarterback for the Vikings will face a Packers defense that might be without cornerback Casey Hayward or Sam Shields. The Vikings don't know who their quarterback will be, but you can bet Greg Jennings -- who was a surprise scratch on Sunday against Seattle -- will be motivated for his return to Lambeau Field. Rarely has a trip to Green Bay lined up so well for the Vikings since the last time they went east with a scorned former Packers star (the notorious B.L. Favre, of course).
After that, it's on to a home game with the Chicago Bears, who are still in the thick of the NFC North race. Then it's the Ravens game, followed by a date with the Eagles, who could give the Vikings' defense all sorts of problems on Dec. 15. Minnesota finishes its road schedule against 7-4 Cincinnati on Dec. 22, and closes down Mall of America Field with the 6-4 Lions on Dec. 29.
From a draft pick standpoint, the only problem with the Vikings' schedule being so tough the rest of the way is if they end up tied with another team. They currently would have the No. 2 pick in the draft, beating out three other 2-8 teams because they've played the weakest schedule so far. But as our Kevin Seifert pointed out yesterday, the Vikings have the second-toughest remaining schedule against 2-8 teams, and if another team loses the same number of games against weaker opponents, they could leapfrog the Vikings for a spot near the top of the draft order.
Whatever your angle, there's no disputing how tough the Vikings' slate is the rest of the way. That could mean more trouble this year, but a better draft slot for 2014. Stay tuned.