Minnesota Vikings still hoping for first-round bye in playoffs

By The Sports Xchange  |  Dec. 26, 2017 at 8:40 PM
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings head into their regular-season finale needing a victory over the Chicago Bears to reach the second-highest win total in team history.

Only the 1998 Vikings, who went 15-1 before losing at home to Atlanta in the NFC title game in Randy Moss' rookie year, had as many wins as the Vikings will have if they finish 13-3.

"That's not our focus," receiver Adam Thielen said after Saturday's victory over the Packers. "We're just trying to win every game and get that first-round bye and hopefully home-field advantage."

The Vikings did their part to extend both possibilities for at least another day. Saturday's 16-0 win at Lambeau Field -- the team's first shutout since 1993 and first shutout of the Packers since 1971 -- sent the Vikings into Sunday and Monday's action rooting against the Panthers and Eagles.

A loss by Carolina to Tampa Bay on Sunday would have clinched a first-round bye for Minnesota. A loss by Philadelphia to Oakland on Monday would have extended the battle for the No. 1 seed to this week. The Vikings also would have needed to win next week and have the Eagles lose again.

Neither occurred and the Eagles clinched the No. 1 seed with their win Monday night. Now, the Vikings can secure a first-round bye with a win Sunday, or any one of three other scenarios: A Carolina loss, a New Orleans win or a Rams win.

But head coach Mike Zimmer already had his head buried in his Bears preparation by Sunday morning. Players worked out in the morning, met with coaches and were given Monday and Tuesday off.

"We went through the tape from last night first of all," Zimmer said Sunday. "We met with the coaches. The players came in and worked out, lifted and ran. Now, we're working on Chicago."

If the Vikings do indeed secure a bye, they would need two wins to become the first team to play the Super Bowl in its own stadium.

Receiver Stefon Diggs said he'll be watching football Sunday and especially Monday night when the Eagles play.

"But I watch all football," Diggs said Sunday. "Not necessarily just for the playoff implication, but every Monday, every Thursday my TV is on football."

REPORT CARD VS. PACKERS

--PASSING OFFENSE: C -- The cold affected quarterback Case Keenum. He had one of his least efficient games of the season. He didn't turn the ball over, but was fortunate the Packers didn't make plays that were available to them. For example, Keenum produced a terribly underthrown ball in the first half. Instead of being intercepted, however, receiver Stefon Diggs managed to turn it into a 39-yard pass interference call. Keenum had season lows for completions (14) and passing yards (139).

--RUSHING OFFENSE: C -- The Vikings topped 100 yards rushing (112), but averaged only 3.4 yards. Jerick McKinnon had a 17-yard run, while Latavius Murray had one for 14 yards. The other 31 carries gained just 81 yards (2.6).

--PASS DEFENSE: A -- Safety Harrison Smith had two interceptions to tie his career high of five for the season. His first pick came on third down in the red zone with the Vikings leading 10-0 late in the first half. Packers quarterback Brett Hundley had 23 incompletions, 17 completions and posted a 30.2 passer rating. No Packers receiver had more than 36 yards receiving.

--RUSH DEFENSE: C -- The Packers averaged 4.7 yards on 24 carries. Hundley was a problem running the ball. He had runs of 22 and 24 yards against a defense that had allowed a league-low 17 rushes of 10 yards or more this season.

--SPECIAL TEAMS: A -- Let's give them an A because they managed to make two field goals and punt the ball successfully three times while using emergency long snapper David Morgan after Kevin McDermott went down because of a shoulder injury. Morgan had never snapped in a game. Kai Forbath hit three field goals, including a 49-yarder, and an extra point.

--COACHING: B -- It wasn't a masterpiece, especially offensively. The Vikings got too cute early on, but were able to get away with it because the Packers are decimated by injuries. Defensively, the Vikings played up to head coach Mike Zimmer's high standards, holding the Packers to 239 yards, four third-down conversions in 15 tries and no fourth-down conversions in four attempts.

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