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Lunchbreak: CBS Sports Likes Vikings Chances to Earn Playoff Spot

There likely won't be any shortage of drama over the final month of the 2021 NFL season, especially when talking about the NFC playoff race.

The conference features a trio of 10-win teams that are battling for the top seed and a first-round bye, plus a cluster of teams fighting for the Wild Card spots.

The Vikings obviously fall into latter category, as Minnesota is one of five teams sitting at 6-7 in the conference.

Cody Benjamin of CBS Sports recently looked at the numerous teams aiming for the three Wild Card spots and ranked them based on who he thinks has the best chance to get in the field.

Benjamin broke down eight total teams, beginning with the Rams (9-4) and 49ers (7-6), both of whom are currently in the top two Wild Card spots.

Benjamin put Minnesota in the third spot, meaning he believes the Vikings will get in despite currently being in the No. 8 spot.

He wrote:

They are addicted to heartbreak, nearly blowing a huge lead to Pittsburgh on a short week at home. Mike Zimmer's defense remains problematic. But as long as Kirk Cousins has Dalvin Cook and Justin Jefferson, they're too explosive to write off.

The Vikings are at the Bears in Week 15 on Monday Night Football, followed by games against the Rams (home), Packers (away) and Bears again (home).

The rest of Benjamin's rankings included Philadelphia at fourth and Washington in his fifth spot. He wrote about the latter:

They're a tough out with Ron Rivera on the sidelines and the never-say-die Taylor Heinicke under center, but COVID and injuries have increasingly sapped them of depth. They can win ugly, but the issue is they almost always have to.

Seattle (5-8), New Orleans (6-7) and Atlanta (6-7) rounded out the rest of Benjamin's list, which can be found here.

Look back at photos over the course of time featuring games between the Vikings and the Bears.

Ekstrom: Conklin thriving in first year as starter

Kudos to Tyler Conklin, who has already set career high in catches, yards and touchdowns this season.

Sam Ekstrom of Purple Insider recently profiled Conklin, who has taken on the Vikings No. 1 tight end role in 2021 with Irv Smith, Jr., sidelined by a meniscus injury.

He wrote:

Conklin has pretty well carried the load with 49 catches, 489 yards and three touchdowns as the Vikings have shifted their offensive philosophy without Smith.

The Vikings had a league-low in three-wide-receiver formations last year with 294 and spent 494 snaps in their most common two-tight-end formations ("12" and "21"). This year they are on pace to almost reverse those splits with 466 snaps using three wide receivers and only 343 snaps out of "12" and "21".

Stretching the field has undoubtedly kept things open for Conklin over the middle.

And while Ekstrom praised Conklin's play this season, he did attempt to peer into the offseason and wonder what the future holds for the Vikings tight end group.

Ekstrom wrote:

Conklin is a free agent in March and may require a sum larger than you think, while Smith is under contract in 2022 and is arguably the more talented of the two when healthy. Who does the team prefer long-term, and if the answer is both, can it justify spending sizable figures on a pair of tight ends? Furthermore, do the Vikings want their offense to return to more double-tight-end looks when they've seen its potential with a good third wide receiver?

All of this needs to be considered when we think about how the Vikings have played with Conklin — and basically only Conklin — fueling their tight end play for the first 13 games.

Conklin and fellow tight end Chris Herndon are slated to be free agents this offseason, while Smith will enter the final season of his rookie deal.

Ekstrom's full feature on Conklin, and what his future might look like, can be found here.