A glance at the playoff-caliber checklist suggests the Vikings are doing most of the right things as the NFL's final month approaches.
Ascending as the season goes on? Check. The Vikings have won two in a row and three of their past four.
Winning on the road? Yep. They blew out one of the NFC's top teams Sunday in a 41-17 victory over the New York Giants in East Rutherford, N.J.
Limiting mistakes? Sure. They have a modest eight turnovers in their past four games, five of which came Nov. 18 in a 29-22 victory over Oakland. In their past three games, the Vikings have committed a total of 13 penalties.
All hands on deck? Pretty much.
Rookie tailback Adrian Peterson is expected back from a knee injury this Sunday against Detroit, and it's possible that cornerback Antoine Winfield (hamstring) will return to the lineup as well.
Solid quarterback play? Well, he won't make the Pro Bowl, but Tarvaris Jackson has completed 27 of 34 passes for 300 yards in his past two games.
"We don't want to think about [getting into the playoffs] too much right now," safety Darren Sharper said, "but we definitely know that we have a team that's good enough to be. ... We've played with everybody we've faced this year, so we knew we had a playoff-caliber team."
The other part of the equation, of course, is that despite their recent upswing, a 2-5 start has left the Vikings facing a difficult road to the postseason. Since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger, only three teams have made the playoffs after starting 2-5: the 1990 New Orleans Saints, the 1995 Detroit Lions and the 2002 New York Jets.
Currently jumbled among six NFL teams with identical 5-6 records, the Vikings can't ensure a playoff berth by winning the rest of their games, based on a tie-breaking analysis. They can, however, cripple their hopes by losing Sunday.
Coach Brad Childress acknowledged he considers his team "relevant," but the scenarios are so hypothetical that he plans to ignore them for now.
"[That has] served us well here over the last couple weeks," Childress said. "Just sticking to our knitting and kind of keeping those blinders on."
Indeed, Childress has used a theme of going "1-0 this week" since the Vikings suffered a 34-0 loss Nov. 11 at Green Bay. Their current two-game winning streak -- or consecutive one-game streaks, as Childress might call it -- has been the result.
"I look at disgust as being a great motivator," Childress said, "whether you're in the gutter and you're disgusted with yourself or you've gained 60 pounds and you're disgusted with yourself. There is a point where you just say, 'I can't stand [it].' ... I don't think that any of [the players] would have wanted their football career to end after that Green Bay game, or our coaching career, and I just think that they have decided to rise up and do something about it."
Will it lead to the franchise's first playoff berth in three years? Not if they lose Sunday to the Lions, who would join the Giants as a wild-card team if the playoff started today.
A Lions victory Sunday would leave the Vikings with poor marks in two of the most important tie-breakers. In fact, they would be unable to finish with an NFC North record of better than 2-4 and their conference record could be no better than 6-6.
Should Detroit or the Giants falter down the stretch, the Vikings would be competing with Philadelphia, New Orleans, Arizona, Washington and Chicago for possibly one wild-card spot. Of those teams, the Saints are in the best position to move up because they have a better conference record (4-3).