The Minnesota Vikings are mere days away from clinching the NFC North, securing at least one home game in the 2022 playoffs.
And if those very playoffs began today, the Vikings would host the seventh-seeded Washington Commanders at U.S. Bank Stadium in the wildcard round.
Minnesota’s tentative playoff dance partner has been fluid over the last few weeks, hopping around from the Green Bay Packers to Seattle Seahawks — and now Washington. The Packers have seven of their last eight games, nearing mathematical elimination from the tournament by Week 13. The Seahawks started the season resembling the old Seahawks but have returned to orbit, losing back-to-back contests.
As for the Commanders, well, they’re headed in a different direction, totally turning the tide on the 2022 campaign after inserting former Vikings quarterback Taylor Heinicke at QB1. Heinicke’s fellas have won six of their last seven, with their only loss against — you guessed it — the Vikings in Week 9.
Accordingly, Washington wiggled into the No. 7 hole inside the NFC’s evolving playoff picture. They won’t win the NFC East because that division is stuffed to the gills with billionaires, but the Commanders recent stretch of success cannot be ignored.
Guided by defense, Washington has toppled the Bears, Packers, Colts, Eagles, Texans, and Falcons since October 14th. Heinicke still ranks around the NFL’s 12th-worst starting quarterback per DVOA, but nobody cares because his team is winning. His predecessor Carson Wentz did not win, Heinicke does win, and the narrative resultantly favors Heinicke’s energy.
Few onlookers are too frightened of the Vikings potential matchup with Washington in the wildcard round. Minnesota took care of business over the Commanders about a month ago, thanks to a 4th Quarterback comeback. T.J. Hockenson’s first game in purple clothes substantially enhanced the Vikings pathway to victory, and the game was made closer than necessary courtesy of a referee flat-out running into safety Camryn Bynum, preventing a would-be interception.
Moreover, if it is the Commanders in Round 1, the Vikings should have ample on-the-job training. Several Vikings games have transpired (or will transpire) versus squads with plush defenses while the same team whimpered on offense. See — Saints, Patriots, Jets, Colts, and, of course, the Commanders.
Based on current win-loss standings — and if the Vikings continue to win, seizing the No. 2 or 3 seed — Minnesota is close to a lock in hosting the Commanders, Giants, Seahawks, or [maybe] Falcons. Write those teams down because one will face the Vikings in early January.
For now, the flavor of the week is Washington.
Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sal Spice. His Viking fandom dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).