Three thoughts from the long sports weekend:
• In the story of this Vikings season, let's not underestimate just how perfectly the final three opponents and outcomes of the regular season played out.
First, after having an eight-game winning streak stopped the week before at Carolina, the Vikings got to play a seemingly disinterested and overmatched Bengals team. Minnesota was able to regain confidence and momentum with an easy victory, even getting a look at Teddy Bridgewater in the process.
After that, they went to a freezing cold Green Bay, which had lost the week before and therefore wasn't playing Aaron Rodgers.
The switch back to Brett Hundley seriously increased the Vikings' chances of victory, but the Packers still put forth an honest effort even in a shutout loss — important for a Vikings team trying to stay sharp while also banking victories. Having a recent game in frigid conditions could come in handy if both the Vikings and Eagles are fortunate enough to make the NFC title game in Philadelphia.
And finally, Sunday's victory over the Bears was comfortable but again not too easy. Like the Packers, the Bears put forth an honest effort even in defeat. The outcome was never really in doubt — enabling the Vikings to clinch the all-important No. 2 seed and first-round bye — but it wasn't the kind of win that leads to bad habits.
That's not to say the progression will lead to postseason success, but the Vikings have to feel good about how the past three weeks played out.
• If you're worried about Sam Bradford's expected return to Vikings practice being a potential distraction, coach Mike Zimmer's answer Monday when asked about potentially being able to use Bradford in a playoff game should at least ease those fears.
"I'm not committed to say he's going to play, so we'll just see how things go," Zimmer said. "Things could happen. We win a game, someone gets hurt. You never know what could happen."
Translation: Zimmer wants to keep all options open. Case Keenum is the quarterback the Vikings need to ride. But if the Vikings managed to win a playoff game while Keenum was injured, a healthy Bradford certainly would be a viable option to add to a gameday roster. The most interesting question is where on the depth chart — above or below Bridgewater — a healthy Bradford would land.
• The eye test indicates Karl-Anthony Towns has been making strides on defense this season, and some numbers tweeted Monday by Aaron Gleeman back that up.
In October, the Timberwolves gave up 115.6 points per 100 possessions when Towns was on the court. In November, that number went down to 106.4, and in December it was even better at 104.5.
Not all of the blame for October goes to Towns, while not all of the credit can go to him for the improved months. After all, he does have four teammates on the court with him.
But it is an indication that he's taking both ends of the court seriously — and the Wolves are clearly better off for it.