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Lunchbreak: ESPN Notes Little 'Leeway' on Vikings Playoff Path

The Vikings bounced back after their Week 7 bye with three straight wins against division opponents. But they came up short Sunday in a game that, had they won, would have lifted them to a .500 record.

Sitting at 4-6, does Minnesota still have a shot at the postseason?

Yes, ESPN's Courtney Cronin pointed out, although there’s little-to-no room for error remaining in the Vikings schedule. She wrote:

If Minnesota could take advantage of three home games against the Cowboys, Carolina Panthers and Jaguars, the story entering the final stretch of December would be an exciting one – six straight wins and a 7-5 record after their 1-5 start.

But the Vikings stumbled with their first leg of that stretch, losing to the Cowboys 31-28 on Sunday. And for a Vikings team that already had little room for error in making a push toward earning one of the final spots in the NFC playoffs, they have even less leeway going forward.

Cronin referenced ESPN's Football Power Index to explain that the Vikings playoff chances dropped to 16.8 percent after the loss to Dallas.

View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster as of January 4, 2021.

Cronin looked at a couple of scenarios in which Minnesota could reach the postseason. The first, of course, would be winning out. But with road games at Tampa Bay and New Orleans remaining on the schedule, she said, the likelihood of that happening is on the low end.

Let's consider some other scenarios. With Carolina and Jacksonville upcoming in Weeks 12 and 13, two wins would up the Vikings chances of making the playoffs to 27 [percent]. The Panthers played a backup quarterback (P.J. Walker) in a rout of Detroit on Sunday. The reason there's no opening line on Sunday's Vikings-Panthers game likely has to do with the status of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who missed Week 11 with a knee injury. Minnesota also needs to prepare for the possibility of Gardner Minshew being back under center for the Jaguars in two weeks.

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Things would change drastically for the Vikings if they're able to steal a game most will expect them to lose. If they win the games against teams with worse records plus Chicago and beat Tampa Bay, their chances of getting a Wild Card spot go up to 87 [percent]. If they beat Carolina, Jacksonville, Chicago, New Orleans and Detroit, their postseason chances are at 77 [percent].

Cronin pointed out that the NFC West race could play out in the Vikings favor, particularly depending on the results of the Week 16 (Rams vs. Seahawks; 49ers vs. Cardinals) and Week 17 contests (Seahawks vs. 49ers; Rams vs. Cardinals).

The line between remaining in the playoff hunt and starting to think of ways to be competitive in 2021 is thin. The Vikings aren't back to where they were before the Week 7 bye, considering whether they should rebuild. They've pushed things far enough to this point to remain in the conversation, but there is little room for error the rest of the way.

Vikings OL Brett Jones 'continuing unlikely journey'

Vikings offensive lineman Brett Jones has certainly grown accustomed to NFL life that can be a roller coaster at times. This season alone, Jones has been on Minnesota's active roster, been on the practice squad and, most recently, started Sunday's at right guard in place of an injured Ezra Cleveland.

The last time Jones had started a game was in 2018, when he started Minnesota's first three contests at center in place of Pat Elflein.

"It's been a couple of years or whatever since I got a chance to go out and start," Jones told Twin Cities media members this week. "You really miss those things. I just tried to enjoy that. It meant a lot that they had the confidence to put me in there. It was great to get back out there again.

"I had a lot of confidence knowing that everybody else had confidence in me," he later added. "But I understand we didn't get the results we want. I'm just going to go back to work this week and try to keep getting better."

Dane Mizutani of the Pioneer Press wrote about Jones and the past week's occurrences, which included not only a start but a starring role, per se.

Jones got his moment in the spotlight last week. And it happened even before he got a surprise start against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Coincidentally, a few days earlier, a Canadian film company, The Little Park, released a 20-minute documentary focused on Jones and his unlikely rise to the NFL. It follows Jones' journey from a unknown recruit in small town Saskatchewan to his years playing at the University of Regina to his emerging as a star with the Calgary Stampeders of the CFL.

Mizutani pointed out that, if Cleveland is back to full health for Sunday's game against the Panthers, "it's more or less a guarantee" that the rookie will re-assume his starting spot.

If that's the case, Jones will shift his focus to once again being a good teammate from the bench. That's what he has always done throughout his football journey.

"I've always been the type of person where I'm going to do the right thing for my teammates," Jones said. "I want to make sure that I can provide them as much insight [as possible]. I've seen a lot of football, and I enjoy those things, and I just try to do my job. Whatever my role is that week, I'm just going to try to do the best that I can."

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