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Vikings focus on season's home stretch
Playoff positioning with a month left in the regular season should come dashed with a grain of salt; much can still happen in the NFL to affect the playoff picture.
The Minnesota Vikings know the realization well. They know, despite holding the final wild-card spot in the NFC heading into Week 14 and Monday night's game at Seattle, that the next four weeks will determine everything.
"Which means all of the work we did through OTAs, training camp, preseason, regular season, it comes down to four games," Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins said Thursday about being the current sixth seed. "It comes down to other teams are in the hunt, other teams are fighting for their division title and whoever has the best four-game stretch. It doesn't really matter what happened before."
The Vikings are in position to make their offseason work pay off despite a regular season that surely hasn't gone the way they envisioned when signing Cousins in free agency. Consistency was a word even mentioned by Cousins on Thursday as the team returned to practice to prepare for the Seahawks (7-5), who are a half-game ahead of Minnesota in the fifth NFC playoff slot.
The Vikings are 6-5-1, holding onto a playoff rung with one, outstretched finger. They started the season 1-2-1 before getting back on track with four wins in the next five games. Last week's loss at New England was the second in the past three games.
The loss knocked Minnesota out of that temporary playoff position. Only Washington's loss on Monday night to Philadelphia put the Vikings back into the bracket.
"What's important is we are the team among the teams that are in the hunt, that sits back at the end of December and says of those teams in that four-game stretch, we had the best run," Cousins said. "That's what it's all about. The stretch for us starts in Seattle Monday night and it's a tremendous challenge. I'm really excited to see this team perform over this four-game stretch."
Often NFL teams are loath to make too much of one game. In the ultimate week-to-week league, it's a necessary mindset to stem the highs and lows of a season in which opponents, injuries and inconsistency can wreak havoc.
But Minnesota is willing to say Monday's game has a playoff-type feel.
"I think going on the road with that crowd and the type of football team that they are, I think yeah, a little bit," Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said. "These next four games will determine what we do and where we go and how we perform in the clutch."
Monday night will certainly be important to the Vikings' postseason chances.
"Definitely, it has that vibe," defensive end Stephen Weatherly said. "This is that type of game and that's how we must treat it."
Prognosticating Minnesota's playoff chances, and even their prospects for Monday, is a futile exercise. The Vikings have lost at home to Buffalo (4-8), a loss that is certainly looming with the tight playoff race. They won at Philadelphia, although the Eagles aren't looking like the Super Bowl defending champions that they are.
"I do think that we can point to some times throughout the year that we've underachieved, not because we weren't giving effort or preparation, but we just haven't been able to sustain the level of potential in this locker room play-in and play-out," Cousins said. "And I think that's what we're challenging ourselves to do in this final stretch of four games is bring your absolute best to the table, fulfill your potential every play and every game and if we do that let's see where we are at the end of the month."
SERIES HISTORY: 15th regular-season meeting. Seahawks lead series, 9-5. The series has been lopsided in recent years, with Seattle winning the last four three regular-season meetings and once more in the playoffs. The last time these two teams met was in the NFC wild-card game at TCF Bank Stadium following the 2015 season when Vikings kicker Blair Walsh missed a 27-yard field goal with 26 seconds left in a 10-9 loss.