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Lunchbreak: Early Playoff Picture Shows Vikings Vying for 7th NFC Spot

The Vikings don't exactly seem to be sitting in a favorable position.

At 3-5, they've now suffered back-to-back losses in exhausting fashion, and they're preparing to head to Los Angeles for a West Coast matchup against the Chargers.

All of that being said, though, there's a lot of football left to be played, and Minnesota still controls its destiny to a certain degree.

"Hopefully, we can learn from some of these things and start to move forward because we all know. We all watch the same film. We all know what we need to do, but we get another opportunity," Adam Thielen told Twin Cities media members Monday. "That's what's so great about football, what's so great about sports, is you get another opportunity to prove people wrong.

"Because everybody right now is going to write us off," he added. "Everyone's going to say this or that, or you should do this or you should do that. But we get another opportunity to prove it on Sunday. So, we're excited about that opportunity."

The NFL is at its halfway point of a 17-game season, and CBS Sports' John Breech projected the playoff picture. If the postseason started today, Atlanta (4-4) would be the seventh seed in the NFC and make the postseason as the third Wild Card team. Breech's computer projections, however, say the Vikings are more likely to finish there than the Falcons. He wrote:

The computer almost malfunctioned trying to figure out who's going to get the final seed in the NFC. Right now, the Vikings are being given the edge, but just barely. Minnesota's playoff chances are sitting at just 29.5 [percent], and although that's extremely low, it's still higher than the other contenders for this spot, including the Seahawks (24.8%), 49ers (23.9%) and Falcons (21.9%).

The top four NFC spots, respectively, would go to Arizona, Tampa Bay, Green Bay and Dallas at this point in the race.

And in the AFC, the top spots would be Tennessee, Buffalo, Baltimore and the Chargers.

ESPN says Vikings have 'identity crisis' & makes final record prediction

ESPN asked its beat reporters to tackle their respective teams and answer these midseason questions: (1) What we know, (2) What we don't know yet and (3) Final record prediction.

Courtney Cronin first looked at Minnesota's offense as "what we know":

The Vikings lead the league in one-score games (seven) and one-score losses (five), a byproduct of their inability to put away teams and be consistently aggressive. What's abundantly clear through nine weeks is this Vikings offense is a shell of the one that ranked 11th in scoring and fourth in yards a season ago. Minnesota has the talent, from Dalvin Cook to Justin Jefferson to Adam Thielen, but it has an identity crisis. Is it a run-first team? Should it be more pass heavy with two top receivers? We know the Vikings spent a ton of money to fix their defense, and while it has flashed improvement, it's not consistently strong enough to be a top-10 unit. What's clear about the Vikings is the trajectory they're on is not sustainable. With franchise-altering decisions on the line this offseason, from what to do with quarterback Kirk Cousins' contract and whether to retain [Head Coach] Mike Zimmer and [General Manager] Rick Spielman, change might be inevitable if this team fails to make the postseason.

The question mark remaining, Cronin said, is what the rookie production will look like for the remainder of the season.

Before Week 9, the Vikings had the fewest rookie contributions of any team with one of the largest draft classes (11 players). A loss at Baltimore provided a glimpse of how big an impact these rookies can make when given the opportunity as Kene Nwangwu returned a kick 98 yards and Camryn Bynum had an interception. But will those opportunities be consistent? Minnesota needs to capitalize on the speed and quickness of Nwangwu by incorporating him in the offense. It's not likely third-string quarterback Kellen Mond plays this season, but the Vikings need to field the rest of their third-round picks (guard Wyatt Davis, defensive end Patrick Jones II and linebacker Chazz Surratt) to see if they're capable of being a part of the plan going forward.

As for a final record prediction, Cronin projected the Vikings to finish 8-9.

The Vikings will steal a game they're not favored in – probably San Francisco or Pittsburgh – beat Detroit and split with their remaining division opponents, but it might not be enough to earn them the No. 7 seed in the NFC playoffs.

Bynum makes PFF's Team of the Week

Bynum made his first career start Sunday and capitalized on the opportunity with an interception of Ravens QB Lamar Jackson.

Analytics site Pro Football Focus put out its NFL Week 9 Team of the Week and highlighted Bynum's performance by including him on the roster. Bynum and Giants S Xavier McKinney were the two safeties highlighted by PFF's Anthony Treash.

Bynum has received an overall player grade of 90.5 from PFF for the 2021 season.