It’s been a season of tough losses for the Minnesota Vikings (I’m looking at you, Week 3 and Week 5). Even still, Minnesota went into their Week 14 matchup with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at 6-6 and in control of their playoff destiny. Largely due to continued struggle on special teams and questionable calls from the referees, the Minnesota Vikings lost the game, significantly reducing their chances of sneaking into the playoffs.
The Minnesota Vikings’ Playoff Chances
It’s now a three-team race to snag the final playoff spot in the NFC. The Vikings are competing with the Arizona Cardinals and Chicago Bears. FiveThirtyEight gives Arizona a 54 percent chance of making the postseason. Both Minnesota and Chicago are sitting at a modest 20 percent chance of making the playoffs.
Virtually every NFL coach preaches about the importance of focusing on what can be controlled. They can’t control what the Cardinals or Bears do, so the Vikings would be wise to focus their attention on the things they can control: their effort, attention to detail, physicality, etc. The issue, of course, is that Minnesota has forfeited control over their playoff path. To get into the postseason, Minnesota is now dependent on other teams faltering. It’s not a great position to be in.
Sunday’s game in Tampa Bay was winnable. Tom Brady missed several routine throws, and Minnesota found plenty of success on offense. The Vikings thus dominated the time of possession; Minnesota held the ball for more than 39 minutes. Despite the time of possession discrepancy, the Vikings were unable to actually score points, so the favorable stats don’t mean too much. Football is played on a field, not a stat sheet. Unless they actually lead to tangible results, the favorable statistics don’t mean too much.
As the Vikings head into the final three games of their season, Mike Zimmer will undoubtedly be focusing on how he can ensure his team translates their positive plays into actual points.
Salvaging the Season
Perhaps it goes without saying, but special teams is the area that needs the biggest improvement. Dan Bailey missed all four of his kicks yesterday: 0/3 on field goals and 0/1 on extra points. Expect the Vikings to retain Bailey while they simultaneously look for other solutions. It would be unwise to cut him, but it would be equally unwise to continue playing him. The best solution is to sign someone to play the remaining three games. Meanwhile, Minnesota can focus on restoring Bailey’s confidence from the sideline.
Otherwise, the Vikings need more big-time plays from their offense and defense.
I mean… pic.twitter.com/FagVVBdGRp
— Will Ragatz (@WillRagatz) December 13, 2020
The defense didn’t get a sack or force a turnover. Given their talent on defense (or lack thereof), Minnesota needs to be more opportunistic. In fairness, Jeff Gladney should have had an interception, but a misguided pass interference call nullified his pick. Questionable calls aside, Minnesota’s coaches need to help the defensive side of the ball by aggressively pursuing turnovers.
On offense, the Vikings need to do a better job of pursuing explosive plays. Adam Thielen only had three catches for 39 yards. Keep in mind that C.J. Ham had three catches for 22 yards. There is simply no way that Ham should be pretty much on par with Thielen, especially in a game where Minnesota was down by multiple scores for the entire second half. It’s an inexcusable issue that Gary Kubiak will need to address.
Even though the playoffs are unlikely, the Minnesota Vikings still have a chance. Let’s hope they can address these issues, especially since the Chicago Bears are coming to town on Sunday.