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Lunchbreak: Vikings Potentially a 'Dark Horse Threat' in Postseason; NFL Alters COVID-19 Protocols

If the Vikings are going to make the playoffs, the odds are that Minnesota will end up as the seventh (and final) seed in the NFC.

Minnesota has had a polarizing season thus far, with a win against Green Bay (the NFC's top seed), but a loss against Detroit (the only NFC team eliminated from playoff contention).

Matthew Coller and Sam Ekstrom of Purple Insider recently answered some pressing questions with four games to go, including the following one:

Should the top teams in the NFC be rooting against the Vikings to make the No. 7 seed?

Both Coller and Ekstrom opined that those teams should be somewhat wary of the Vikings, who still have plenty of talent despite their repeated inconsistencies in 2021.

Coller wrote:

I waffle on this one. On one hand, the last time the Vikings had the final seed in the playoffs, they went down to New Orleans and beat a team that had a Super Bowl-caliber roster. Kirk Cousins played really well in that game, and Mike Zimmer schemed the heck out of the defense. If I'm the Bucs/Cardinals/Packers, I'm not a fan of facing a QB and coach who can absolutely bring it under certain circumstances.

However, if I'm Tom Brady, Matthew Stafford or Aaron Rodgers, I'm looking at the Vikings' defensive ends and cornerbacks and thinking I can throw all over the place on the Vikings.

Ekstrom took a more direct approach, noting Minnesota would be the biggest challenger among the five teams that are currently 6-7.

He wrote:

Without question, the Vikings present the biggest dark horse threat in a single-game situation of any playoff wannabe. Of the three big dogs at 10-3, the Vikings have beaten one (Green Bay) and come a missed field goal beating another (Arizona). Two of the other 6-7 teams have backup quarterbacks, and [Jalen] Hurts would be making his playoff debut if the Eagles make it. Only Matt Ryan would enter the postseason with any type of playoff pedigree.

The prospect of facing an offense with Kirk Cousins, Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen and Dalvin Cook should scare any 2-seed hoping for a cakewalk opening round game. The Vikings have positioned themselves to win every game this season and haven't shown any proclivity to fold against better teams. Minnesota has played eight games this year against teams that presently have a record better than .500. Their average margin in those games is -2.3 points.

Here is the Week 15 schedule for the five teams who are currently 6-7:

Washington (No. 7 seed) – at Philadelphia

Minnesota (No. 8 seed) – at Chicago

Philadelphia (No. 9 seed) – vs. Washington

Atlanta (No. 10 seed) – at San Francisco

New Orleans (No. 11 seed) – at Tampa Bay

Coller and Ekstrom's full answers on various Vikings playoff-related questions can be found here.

NFL alters COVID-19 protocols for vaccinated players

The Vikings are among the many NFL teams whose rosters have been affected by COVID-19 ahead of Week 15.

Minnesota placed Dede Westbrook, Alexander Mattison and Dan Chisena on the Reserve/COVID-19 list this week, with three others also going on the Practice Squad Reserve/COVID-19 list.

Based on recent league-wide rules, vaccinated players have to produce two negative tests 24 hours apart before being cleared to return. If a player is unvaccinated, they must be away for at least 10 days.

View photos of Vikings players from practice on Dec. 16 at the TCO Performance Center.

But the NFL announced Thursday that those rules have been altered going forward to potentially help vaccinated players who are asymptomatic return to the field quicker.

Dan Graziano of ESPN explained the changes in a recent article:

In creating the new return-to-play protocols, the NFL and NFLPA focused on a new metric that measures the viral load of a player, known as the "cycle threshold" (CT). In essence, the CT value can measure whether a player is still contagious, even if in some cases he would still test positive on a traditional test.

That testing can begin as soon as one day after the initial positive and could significantly shorten the amount of time a vaccinated player spends away from the team facility.

There are now three ways for a vaccinated player to return under the new protocols:

— Two PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests that are either negative or produce a CT value of 35 or greater.

— One PCR test that is either negative or produces a CT value of 35 or greater, and a negative Mesa test result taken with 24 hours of the PCR test. (Mesa tests usually return results in less than an hour.)

— Two negative Mesa tests.

Unvaccinated players are still subject to the same rules as before.

The league also announced that all 32 NFL teams will be placed in intensive COVID-19 protocols until the conclusion of Week 15. The Vikings were in these protocols earlier this week.

Graziano wrote:

This means the reimposition of mandatory mask wearing in team facilities, social distancing, grab-and-go meal service in team cafeterias, all-virtual meetings, limits on the number of people allowed in weight rooms and restrictions on activities outside the facility.

Graziano's full breakdown of the league's announced changes can be found here.