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Lunchbreak: Vikings & 49ers Leading 'Fierce Wild Card Race' in NFC

The battle for postseason participation and seeding in the NFC leads little margin for error.

NFL.com's Nick Shook took a look at the NFC playoff picture and said the conference "is as top-heavy as it has been in quite a few years."

He listed the Vikings (8-4) among five teams who are "near locks to make the playoffs, barring total collapse." Also included were the Saints (10-2), Seahawks (10-2), 49ers (10-2) and Packers (9-3). Shook wrote:

One team, New Orleans, has already locked up a home playoff game. That's it for certainty, though, thanks to close races in the NFC North (Green Bay and Minnesota) and NFC West (San Francisco and Seattle). The Packers currently own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Vikings with one more meeting to play, as do the Seahawks over the 49ers, with their huge rematch set for Week 17.

That's the prevailing theme among those near the top of the standings: The final two weeks could mean everything in seeding.

The Saints, Seahawks, Packers and Cowboys (6-6) are currently leading their division.

The 49ers, Vikings, Rams (7-5), Bears (6-6), Buccaneers (5-7), Eagles (5-7) and Panthers (5-7) are all considered part of the Wild Card chase.

Interestingly, the Redskins (3-9) have not yet been mathematically eliminated in an NFC East division that's been lackluster this season.

The Lions (3-8-1), Cardinals (3-8-1), Falcons (3-9) and Giants (2-10) are out of the running.

The rest of the Wild Card hopefuls are wishing for a Vikings collapse this month. One more win for Minnesota and a good chunk of the group can start making vacation plans for January.

Minnesota still has a decent chance to win the NFC North, meaning Green Bay's performance down the stretch still matters, too; though, we should get more clarity after the two teams face off in Week 16. If the two squads remain tight for the final month, the hopes of most of those behind them won't matter much.

Shook said the Vikings are "well-positioned" to make the playoffs. Minnesota is set to host Detroit at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday.

Their loss to the Seahawks on Monday night certainly didn't do them any favors, but at 8-4, they're by no means on the mat looking up at the searing, fluorescent lights. Minnesota should beat the David Blough-led Lions this weekend, and ideally should take care of business against a hapless Chargers team, before things get serious in a Week 16 rematch with the Packers. Should the Vikings manage to win all three of those games, they could be looking at a chance to clinch the division in Week 17 at home against the Bears. There's a lot of ball to be played before then, though, which is keeping the other NFC hopefuls still in the mix.

Cronin says Vikings need to 'fix' certain areas down final stretch

The Vikings performance at Seattle on Monday night had plenty of high points but also a third-quarter that unraveled and various miscues throughout the night.

ESPN's Courtney Cronin pointed out that fumbles were an issue against a Seahawks team that have forced 11 turnovers over the past three games.

Defensively, Minnesota is in a tough spot. Parts of Zimmer's once-vaunted unit appear to have regressed and been figured out. The latter was apparent in Seattle.

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The Vikings set a season worst in points, rushing yards (218) and rushing touchdowns allowed (two). Seattle's 143 rushing yards before contact were a season high, according to ESPN Stats & Info. It was also the most allowed by the Vikings since Week 14, 2018, against Seattle (157 YBC).

Cronin pointed out the success the Seahawks had against cornerback Xavier Rhodes.

According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Wilson went 5-of-5 for 105 yards and a 60-yard touchdown pass when Rhodes was the nearest defender on Monday.

Cronin acknowledged early on that the 37-30 loss by no means ruined Minnesota's shot at the postseason, as explained in the NFC playoff picture above. But she also asserted that the Vikings need to "fix the areas that have routinely been issues this season in wins and losses."

Cousins moves up to No. 5 in PFF's QB rankings

Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins is moving up the ranks.

Some media outlets attempted to make Minnesota's loss at Seattle part of a narrative surrounding Cousins, but his performance helped give the Vikings a chance at late-game comeback.

Analytics site Pro Football Focus released its weekly QB rankings ahead of this weekend's slate of games. Steve Palazzolo placed Cousins at No. 5 on the list and wrote the following:

After a slow start to the season that saw Cousins ranking dead last in PFF grades after two weeks (31.0 overall grade), Cousins has been fantastic, leading the way with a 92.1 overall grade. He's taken to the new system that is getting him out of the pocket on designed bootlegs, and his 618 yards outside the pocket are second only to [Russell] Wilson. Cousins also ranks second in overall adjusted completion percentage at 81.8 [percent]. He's on pace to post the highest PFF grade of his career.

Ahead of Cousins on Palazzolo's list, starting with No. 1, are Wilson, Drew Brees, Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Watson.

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