As we head into the final weeks of the 2019 NFL season, the playoff teams are emerging. A handful of teams are well and truly done for the year. Another group are nearing the point of no return. In these final stages, we turn our attention to one more playoff team, and what the wildcard situation looks like.
NFC: Minnesota Vikings
The Season So Far
The Minnesota Vikings have largely gone under the radar as one of the top teams in the NFC for much of the season. For much of the season they’ve been lingering in the shadows, but don’t have a “statement win.” Although they can’t help their schedule, they have had mixed results on the whole. They have lost to superior competition, and beaten the lesser teams for the most part.
Aside from their hiccup against the Chicago Bears early on, their only losses are to other playoff teams. They were able to lean on their running game for much of their season, helping them sweep the NFC East. Yet they are 2-2 in their own division, having won comfortably against the Detroit Lions but unable to edge out the Green Bay Packers in Week 2. With another game against the Packers to come, they still have a shot to win the division, but should aim to secure a playoff spot first and foremost.
How They Could Win It All
On paper, the Vikings have one of the better rosters in the NFL, without any glaring issues. The Defence has kept most opponents’ scores low, and has notable playmakers at a range of positions. Tightening up a few areas, and allowing fewer yards per game or getting turnovers in better positions, would improve their chances. They play clean, giving up few penalty yards, and are above average in sacks and stopping the run. With no clear weakness, it makes it hard for opponents to target a specific area.
Complementing the Defence is the Offense, which also has dynamic players across the board. Running Back Dalvin Cook has helped them become the 4th best rushing attack in the league, while also providing a good receiving threat. The Wide Receiver tandem of Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen have proven themselves difficult to stop in the past, and the Tight Ends Irv Smith Jr. and Kyle Rudolph are slowly increasing their role in the passing attack too. The vastly improved Offensive Line from a year ago has made a major difference to the overall output. Continuing to piece it all together and reach their potential will enable the Vikings to remain in any contest.
The Achilles’ Heel
Where most of the questions around the Vikings lie is in their Quarterback Kirk Cousins. Although he had some difficulty moving the chains earlier this season, he has proven himself capable of leading the Offense on long drives. However, without a win against MVP Quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson and Patrick Mahomes, the question remains: can he keep up with the best in the league?
Likewise, the Defence hasn’t been truly tested, outside of games against the Packers, Seattle Seahawks and Kansas City Chiefs. There is a lot to ask of them and whether they can remain as stout against the NFC’s top tier teams. And without completely shutting down lesser opponents, such as the Dallas Cowboys or Denver Broncos, it’s hard to see them doing it against the formidable Offenses of New Orleans Saints or San Francisco 49ers. There also remains a larger question – will they even make the playoffs, or will the Los Angeles Rams sneak in ahead of them?
In the AFC, there is a battle-within-a-battle taking place. The AFC South continues to have a title race from week to week, with the Houston Texans unable to inch closer towards the title after losing to the Denver Broncos. Meanwhile, the Tennessee Titans continue to string wins together, and are equal with the Texans at 8-5. With two games between these teams to occur over the final three weeks of the season, it is literally winner takes all.
On the other hand, the window remains open for whichever one doesn’t win the AFC South. After losing three in a row, the Oakland Raiders have all but removed themselves from the wildcard race. With the Buffalo Bills looking comfortable as the fifth seed (unless they can get the division win), it leaves just one space free. Between the Titans and Texans, they will be looking over their shoulder for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who are also at 8-5. The Steelers would be liking their chances to get in if either the Titans or Texans can win both matchups. However, if they go 1-1, Steelers could be in trouble if they drop more than one game.
The NFC is a little more clear cut. The winner of the NFC East is to be determined, and the runner up will be eliminated. The 49ers and Seahawks, and the Packers and Vikings, are still fighting between themselves for their respective divisions. Although the Bears are mathematically alive, they are essentially done unless they win out and other results go their way.
However, one team can still force their way in: the Los Angeles Rams. With two winnable games against the Dallas Cowboys and Arizona Cardinals to come, the Rams are putting a lot of pressure on the Vikings to also win at least two remaining games. The Rams could also spoil the Seahawks’ day too, if the latter fails to win any of their last three games.