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Building for the Long Haul

Vikings players have one more day of rest during their "minibye" that is created by playing on Thursday Night Football. They'll return to Winter Park Tuesday and begin preparations to host the Bears (5-8).

Minnesota is 8-5 with three games remaining, and a total of 10 victories would guarantee the Vikings first playoff berth since 2012. Although they fell 23-20 at Arizona to the 11-2 Cardinals, Sid Hartman of the *Star Tribune *writes that the Vikings were impressive in the outing and showed signs that a group is being built to achieve success for years to come.

Hartman wrote:

*The way the Vikings defense competed without Anthony Barr, Harrison Smith, Linval Joseph and Andrew Sendejo was amazing. The unit continues to improve under coach Mike Zimmer, with young stars such as Barr, Everson Griffen, Xavier Rhodes and Eric Kendricks having breakout seasons. *

The Vikings are 16th in the NFL in total defense, giving up 346.2 yards per game, but they have given up only 19.6 points per game, the fifth- lowest total in the league, and Zimmer might be the best defensive coach in the NFL.

Hartman noted a contrast between the Vikings in 2009 and the team's current outlook.

*If you consider what Rick Spielman and the Vikings front office have done in terms of gathering depth and personnel on both sides of the ball, it really feels like the Vikings finally have gotten back into position to be a dominant force in the NFC North. *

The last time the Vikings won the division was in 2009, but even that team — which, led by 40-year-old quarterback Brett Favre, featured a number of aging stars on both sides of the ball — didn't have the feel of future potential that this squad does.

Berger a super sub?

While there have been some disagreements between coaches' opinions and evaluations of players by analytics site Pro Football Focus, there is likely an agreement on the value of Joe Berger filling in all season for injured center John Sullivan.

PFF's Sam Monson writes, "there is no more underrated and anonymous player in the NFL" than the veteran.

Berger is tied for the best PFF grade at center with Travis Frederick, a player almost universally acknowledged to be the league's best at the position. While most could tell you about Frederick, Berger has nowhere near the same kind of name recognition or hype surrounding his play, but he has been every bit as fantastic this year, and has done so with a supporting cast that pales in comparison to the Cowboys' offensive line.

Berger has allowed just one sack all season, and 12 total pressures, despite playing in an offense that leads the league in seven-step drops — all while pass-blocking for a quarterback that has the ball in his hands, on average, longer than all but one other (Tyrod Taylor, if you're curious). Few interior players have as tough of a time schematically as Berger does, and yet he has performed well as a pass blocker, and even better in the run game.

Monson tallied 2.7 yards per carry (45 rushes for 123 yards) when running between guards and tackles, and 4.8 when running between Berger and either guard spot.

Peterson leads the NFL with 1,251 yards on 268 attempts (4.7 per carry).

10 and in

ESPN.com's Ben Goessling took a glance ahead as to what the final three weeks of the regular season might have in store:

*The Vikings will enter Week 15 as one of only five NFC teams with fewer than seven losses. No matter what happens around the conference in Weeks 15 and 16, they can clinch a playoff spot by winning back-to-back home games against the Chicago Bears and the New York Giants. And while they'd be marching into a thicket of tiebreaking procedures if they only win one of their final three, they'd still have a good chance to reach the playoffs, considering the teams chasing them for a wild-card spot are all 6-7 or worse. Essentially, if the Vikings get to nine wins, one of the teams chasing them would have to win out just to be tied with them. And if they get to 10 wins, they're in no matter what. *

If the Vikings won their final three, they'd also claim the NFC North, even if the Packers (9-4) win road games at Oakland Sunday and at Arizona on Dec. 27.

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