As corny as it sounds, the most important thing the Vikings must do right now is believe the playoffs are still possible.
That might be difficult after a sobering 31-28 loss to the sub-.500 Dallas Cowboys on Sunday. But if the Vikings don’t have that belief, they might as well clean out their lockers at TCO Performance Center in Eagan and head home for the winter.
Looking at the NFC playoff picture as it currently stands, the Vikings (4-6) aren’t even close to out of it. They are only two games behind the Arizona Cardinals (6-4) for the final playoff spot, and theoretically could make up some ground over the next couple of weeks.
The good news is there are winnable games against the Carolina Panthers (4-7) and Jacksonville Jaguars (1-9) coming up the next two weeks. The bad news is those games are immediately followed by tougher tests against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-4) and New Orleans Saints (8-2).
While the Vikings don’t necessarily have to run the table to make the playoffs, they cannot afford any more slipups in games they are supposed to win. For the Vikings, the loss to the Cowboys eliminated their margin for error with a month and a half to go.
“We definitely know what’s up,” Vikings middle linebacker Eric Kendricks said. “At the same time, we are still trying to take it a game at a time. We have to win the game at hand. We have to focus on that game and what they have in store for us, and we have to go out there and we have to execute.”
That’s something the Vikings did to beat the Green Bay Packers, Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears to start November. They were firing on all cylinders in pretty much every facet of the game — well, minus special teams — and it resulted in back-to-back-to-back convincing victories.
Maybe the most impressive thing about that winning streak was the fact that it came with so many doubting the Vikings. Much like they are right now. Can the Vikings get back to that level of play?
“I definitely think they have the mentality,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “I thought we were ready to go for the game, and for whatever reason (the Cowboys) made some more plays than we did.”
That won’t fly in the coming weeks.
While there are still thousands of different scenarios that result in the Vikings making the playoffs, the most plausible start with the Vikings taking care of business against the Panthers this weekend, then the Jaguars a week after that. If the Vikings can somehow follow that up with stealing a game against the Buccaneers or Saints, then beating the Bears and Lions to close out the regular season might be enough.
That said, the Vikings are trying not to get too far ahead of themselves. As far as they are concerned, if they play up to their potential, everything else will work itself out.
“Just keep fighting,” running back Dalvin Cook said. “We don’t care about wins and losses right now. We just want to get better. You see a young group that wants to get better, and that’s our mindset. Just accept this week, watch the film, and get better. We want to make the playoffs. That’s our ultimate goal, to get to the playoffs. But we have to get better as a whole, and that’s our mindset.”