Packers victory over Bears would boost playoff hopes
BY SEAN JENSEN
Vikings coach Mike Tice jokingly said Monday he planned to send Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre a fruit basket.
Free safety Darren Sharper seriously said he planned to offer some of his former Packers teammates a free trip to his offseason home of Miami.
Once proud that they controlled their destiny, the Vikings ceded that luxury with their 18-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday at the Metrodome. Consequently, Minnesota is reduced to relying on others, notably rival Green Bay, to help it win the NFC North and even clinch a playoff spot.
"That's how funny the situation is," Sharper said of his current team needing his former team to beat the Chicago Bears this weekend. "I'm going to call those guys, hopefully give them some encouragement."
With only two games left, the NFC playoff picture is much murkier than the AFC. Three AFC divisions have been secured, and the Denver Broncos, who lead the AFC West, already have a playoff berth wrapped up, leaving only the two wild-card spots. In the NFC, only one team has locked up a division or a playoff spot Ã¢â‚¬â€ the Seattle Seahawks.
Because so much will be decided in the next two weeks, Tice educated his players on the team's various playoff scenarios to underscore that they can still achieve their goals.
Among the key points:
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ The Vikings can win the NFC North, if the Packers upset the Bears at Lambeau Field on Sunday and the Vikings win their final two games, including the season finale against the Bears on Jan. 1 at the Metrodome.
"That'd be the best-case scenario," receiver Koren Robinson said.
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ Even if the Bears win, the Vikings have a solid chance of nabbing one of the two wild-card spots, but they need to win their final two games to give themselves the best chance.
"It's an exciting time because there's a lot of scenarios out there," Tice said. "I laid out for them the scenarios, and it all starts with us winning the game against Baltimore.
"If we don't beat Baltimore, all those scenarios are moot."
Actually, Minnesota could get into the playoffs if it loses to Baltimore and beats Chicago. But that would require Dallas, Washington and Atlanta each going winless in their final two games. The Vikings can't get into the playoffs if they finish 8-8.
Although Tice laid out the playoff scenarios, the players didn't completely grasp the assorted ways in which the team could or could not end up in the postseason. Asked Monday, several players were unaware which teams could help them most.
The most glaring ones: the Packers and the Carolina Panthers, who play the Cowboys and the Falcons over the next two weeks. The Vikings would be in if the Panthers can beat both of those teams, and the Redskins lose to either the Giants or the Philadelphia Eagles.
"It's tough," cornerback Antoine Winfield said. "We knew going into last week that we controlled our own destiny, but we didn't go out there and get the job done. So now we need to win the next two and rely on some help."
The Vikings will know where they stand by kickoff time this weekend. Playing on Christmas evening in Baltimore, Minnesota's wild-card competitors will have already played, including the Bears, who face the Packers at 4 p.m. that day.
There will be less certainty the final weekend, when the Vikings' noon kickoff on New Year's Day against Chicago is the same time as the Redskins' game in Philadelphia, but the Cowboys play host to St. Louis that evening.
"I think they'll probably be a lot of scoreboard watching," running back Michael Bennett said. "But we just have to focus in on what we have to do, and let everything else take its course."
The Vikings are veterans of late-season playoff pushes. In each of the past two seasons, Minnesota's postseason fate has been determined in its finale.
"We're kind of used to it," Bennett said. "But hopefully it goes our way this year again, and we can make it and make a run for (the Super Bowl)."
The Vikings, though, cannot lose sight of their reality.
"We got to take care of our part and hope and pray that some other teams lose, which I feel looks pretty good for us," Robinson said. "But that doesn't matter if we don't take care of Baltimore this week and Chicago next week."
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