With four weeks remaining of the regular season, the playoff picture continues to fluctuate. Spots become more and more secure for some teams, while others continue to battle for a shot at the postseason.
NFL.com's Cynthia Frelund used a "vetted model" to find out which teams were most likely to make it "and which games mattered most." Based on her findings, she wrote about eight remaining games this season that will "greatly shape the NFL playoff field." Two of the matchups she tabbed involve the Vikings.
First up is the imminent Week 14 Monday Night Football contest when the Vikings (6-5-1) visit the Seahawks (7-5) at CenturyLink Field. Frelund wrote:
As recently as three weeks ago, my model had Carolina edging out the loser of this game for a Wild Card spot. However, with road losses to the Lions and Bucs sandwiched around a home loss to the Seahawks, the Panthers have cleared the way for boththe Vikings and Seahawks to make it to the postseason tourney. My model has the Seahawks winning in 57.9 percent of the outcomes this week and making it to the playoffs in 70.2 percent of simulations.
Frelund also highlighted the Vikings Week 17 division matchup against the Bears. Minnesota lost to Chicago on the road in Week 11 and will try to even the series.
It's very likely that the path to Atlanta on the NFC side won't include any locations with much potential for inclement weather. I have Los Angeles and New Orleans most likely to earn byes before hosting games, and Dallas representing the NFC East. The only potential bad-weather venue: Chicago, if the Bears take the NFC North. It's no guarantee that this Week 17 bout will serve as a division title game, though – that's only the case in 38 percent of the sequential simulations.
The six other games Frelund tabbed as shaping the postseason landscape were as follows:
Week 14: Panthers at Browns, Eagles at Cowboys
Week 15: Chargers at Chiefs, Cowboys at Colts, Patriots at Steelers
Week 16: Ravens at Chargers
Rand: Victory at Seattle could 'define Vikings season'
Vikings players and coaches alike stick to a consistent mantra of "one week at a time" as they go through the season.
With a loss to the Patriots now in the rearview mirror, the Vikings are preparing to face their next opponent: the Seahawks.
Michael Rand of the Star Tribune wrote earlier this week that a win at Seattle on Monday Night Football "could define the Vikings season." Rand wrote:
[Zimmer] agreed that there is added emphasis for a game against a conference foe that could be battling for one of the two same Wild Card spots the Vikings might find themselves trying to attain, but … Zimmer also noted that it doesn't really matter if the Vikings win next Monday night if, after that, they relieve their bowels into their own hands and lose the next three.
Fair enough, but let's just focus on the Seattle game for a moment and what it means — not in the cosmic scheme of things, but in the context of the Vikings' season.
Rand used the FiveThirtyEight.com website to determine playoff probabilities based on varying scenarios and highlighted a few takeaways, including that the site gives Minnesota a 60-percent chance of making the playoffs.
With a win at Seattle, the Vikings playoff chances jump to  percent, a -percentage point increase. This doesn't factor in any other result, but just that one win would put the Vikings from shaky to much more firm ground.
Rand added that a loss at Seattle would knock their chances down to  percent, which "isn't exactly doom and gloom."
A win at Seattle combined with a Bears loss to the Rams would give the Vikings a 50 percent chance of winning the NFC North and overall give them an -percent chance of reaching the postseason.
So yeah, there's a lot at stake next week. But the biggest takeaway I have from this is that a loss to Seattle wouldn't be fatal. A win, though? That could define the Vikings' season and take them from a muddled mess to a better place.
Look back at photos over the course of time featuring games between the Vikings and the Seahawks.
Former Gophers CB calls opportunity with Vikings 'a blessing'
When cornerback Craig James was signed from the practice squad to the active roster on Nov. 27, the former Golden Gopher called it "a blessing."
Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press spoke with James last week about his football journey and time with the Vikings. Tomasson wrote:
The 5-foot-10, 195-pound James signed with Vikings after impressing them in a rookie minicamp in May. He was waived Sept. 1, the week before the start of the regular season, before being signed Oct. 18 to the practice squad.
James, who is from Edwardsville, Ill., said he enjoyed playing for the Gophers as a reserve corner and punt returner. He broke his leg against Northwestern in the fifth game in 2015, ending his season, and then transferred [to Southern Illinois].
According to Tomasson, James was "thrilled at the opportunity" to join the Vikings.
"I just got out there every day in practice and gave it my all," James said of his response to Minnesota giving him a shot. "You can't slack off. That's my mindset every day."