Minnesota Vikings Have a Season-Defining Four-Game Stretch, Starting With the Bills

The 7-1 Minnesota Vikings have a chance these next four weeks to prove that they are "for real" as a team that can make noise in the NFL playoffs.

Fans of the Minnesota Vikings have to be sick of the “sustainability” talk when they just want to celebrate their 7-1 squad that has all but clinched the division. Their rivals, the Green Bay Packers, are mired in 3-6 misery, and there’s a real possibility that the Vikings mathematically clinch by Thanksgiving. And the Vikings soon have the ability to prove that this is who they really are.

Minnesota Vikings Prove Success Breeds Demands for More Success

By all accounts, this should be regarded as a successful season. The team is better than it was last year, will almost certainly make the playoffs, and may even make some noise in a weak NFC. The team has met any external metric of success put on them before the season, and that’s a good sign.

But no good deed goes unpunished. The Vikings have won too many games, and the measure of a successful season, fairly or not, has changed. Now, instead of needing to be feisty in the playoffs, they are viewed as potential competitors for a ring.

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While they aren’t viewed as a top-tier unit like the Bills, Chiefs, or Eagles, they still have a more serious eye toward the playoffs than they did before. And for that, they need to be a very good team, not merely a team better than the weak slate they’ve racked up close wins against.

The Vikings Remain an Unconvincing 7-1 Squad

At the moment, the Vikings are undefeated in one-score games and 1-1 in games decided by more than one possession. Their multiple-possession win came in Week 1 against a struggling Packers team. The only win they have against a team with a winning record is against the Miami Dolphins, who started their third-string quarterback before being forced to start their backup quarterback due to injury. The backup had not taken any reps with the first team that week.

Close games against the Jared Goff-led Lions, Andy Dalton-led Saints, Justin Fields-led Bears, Taylor Heinicke-led Commanders, and Kyler Murray-led Cardinals don’t lend confidence in the product the Vikings are putting together.

Good teams beat bad teams and beat them often, but they also usually beat them by quite a bit more than one score and do not often dig themselves into holes that they have to dig out of late in the fourth quarter.

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From a fan perspective, the Vikings are fantastic – they win, and in exciting ways. For an analyst, they’re difficult to get a handle on. There’s only one example of the Vikings playing a high-level squad, and it just so happens that they were obliterated by the Eagles.

One game doesn’t define the level of quality for a team, and there’s much more information in their multiple wins than their one loss. While that information is positive, it’s not so overwhelmingly positive that lends confidence in their ability to take on some of the top squads in the NFL.

The Vikings Have an Opportunity to Prove Their Quality

Luckily for analysts, and perhaps for fans, the Vikings have that opportunity coming up. In the next four weeks, they’ll be taking on four teams with a winning record. The Jets, Bills, Cowboys, and Patriots have a combined record of 23-11. And the Bills and Cowboys might be two of the best teams in the league when healthy.

The Jets just took down the Bills, and the Patriots beat that Jets team two weeks ago. They all have high-quality wins on their resume and generally bear out as more complete teams statistically.

There are some hiccups – the Cowboys have only had one game this year with good quarterback play, as Dak Prescott’s return didn’t result in an immediate offensive uplift, and it remains unclear whether or not Josh Allen will be able to play this week against the Vikings.

But in both instances, the Vikings’ offense will have their work cut out for them. If they can do more than score on the first drive, that will be a good sign.

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The Patriots and Jets are interesting in that they also show the signs of a team “not sustainably” winning – the Jets don’t have stable quarterback play and just lost their most dynamic offensive weapon, while the Patriots are simply not an impressive squad. The Jets’ defense will present a test similar to the ones provided by the Cowboys and Bills defenses, so there is another opportunity to prove the offense is up to snuff.

It may very well be the case that the best opportunity the Vikings will have to prove that they’re “real” won’t be much of an opportunity at all given how those quarterback situations could play out. But there are still ways they can assuage fears and establish themselves as a truly top-tier unit across the league.

Emerging from the next four-game stretch with at least two wins might be all they need to prove they can hang, and fans should relish that chance.

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