When Case Keenum and the Vikings were battered in Pittsburgh and limped home at 1-1, the suggestion here was to step away from the upstairs railing, let your talented squad take a few more swings in this highly imperfect league and hold off on Googling “NFL Mock Draft ’18.”
Eight games later, the Vikings are 8-2, winners of six straight and sitting on the second seed in the NFC.
Thanks for coming. Please pay the receptionist on your way out.
The Vikings truly are the second-best team in the NFC behind Philadelphia (9-1). Enjoy the flight, but stay buckled for the unexpected, but inevitable turbulence.
It’s Week 11. There are six more to go. Ask the folks in Dallas, Buffalo, Denver and Green Bay how quickly things change. Or just reach back a year and recall the numbers 5-0 and 3-8.
Week 12 starts with three games on Thanksgiving. As the first one — Vikings at Detroit — nears, the sense is many fans have overcorrected their assumption wheel since that Pittsburgh loss and are rolling end over end toward the ditch on the other side of this winding road to Minneapolis and Super Bowl LII.
Just breathe a bit before locking arms in a statewide “Duck, Duck, Goose Gray Duck!” celebration of a second NFC North title in three years. Let’s all get up Thursday morning and see how things go against a Lions team that has controlled the Vikings more often than not since 2014.
Beat the Lions, and the NFC North lead is three games with five to play. Lose to the Lions for the fourth straight time, and it’s one game with Detroit holding the first tiebreaker and a more favorable schedule.
In other words, no pressure, guys. Before you eat turkey, don’t play like one.
Now here’s a closer look at the 16-team NFC:
Write ’em off! (6): 49ers, Giants, Bears, Buccaneers, Redskins and Cardinals.
On life support (3): Packers (5-5), Cowboys (5-5) and Seahawks (6-4).
By the time Aaron Rodgers and Ezekiel Elliott are able to return, there probably won’t be anything to return to in Green Bay and Dallas. As for Seattle, the Legion of Boom era is over, CenturyLink Field has lost its mojo and Blair Walsh misses have knocked the Seahawks out of the top six twice in the past three weeks.
And now the top seven seeds as of Week 11 …
7: Lions (6-4): Of the top seven teams, they have the fewest games left against teams that now have a winning record. One. That comes Thursday at home against the Vikings. And chances are they won’t have to face Rodgers in the season finale.
6: Falcons (6-4): Five of their final six games are against division opponents. They still have to play the Saints twice and the Buccaneers twice. They play four teams with a winning record, but their next three games are at home.
5: Panthers (7-3): They have three straight home games in December. They lead the league in third-down conversions (46.85 percent), but are by far the worst of the top seven teams in turnover ratio (minus-7).
4: Rams (7-3): They lost more than a game Sunday when leading receiver Robert Woods sprained his shoulder. They play four teams with winning records. Their next five games: Saints, at Arizona, Eagles, at Seattle, at Tennessee. A tough stretch for an upstart team.
3: Saints (8-2): An eight-game winning streak has given them a two-game lead on the Falcons, whom they play twice in three weeks in December. They have Drew Brees and a running game that ranks No. 1 in average per carry (4.82).
2: Vikings (8-2): They take a six-game winning streak into a three-game road trip against Detroit on a short week, then face Atlanta and Carolina. No other team in the top seven faces a task this difficult over the next three weeks. But the Vikings show signs of being sturdy enough to survive. They lead the league in third-down defense (28.57) and the NFC in points allowed (17.2) and yards allowed per carry (3.35). Offensively, they rank fourth in third-down conversions (45.59) and first in sacks allowed per pass play (2.91).
1: Eagles (9-1): They have an eight-game winning streak, the league’s best record, an NFC-best turnover ratio (plus-10) and only two games left against teams with a winning record. However, they do play three straight road games in December, including back-to-back trips to Seattle and the Rams. And Elliott will be back from his suspension when the Cowboys visit in Week 17.
Mark Craig is an NFL and Vikings Insider. Twitter: @markcraigNFL