Carolina, by virtue of entering this weekend undefeated, is the team to beat in the NFC. The Vikings don’t play Carolina in the regular season, so toss out the Panthers.
The three biggest contenders outside of Carolina are as follows, in no particular order: Seattle, Green Bay and Arizona.
Two weeks ago, with a chance to take firm control of the NFC North, the Vikings lost at home to the Packers by a 30-13 score. The game had its ebbs and flows, but overall: Green Bay was the better team and made far more plays, particularly on offense.
On Sunday, with a chance to remain in first place by themselves in the NFC North in what looked to be a toss-up game against Seattle, the Vikings had their doors blown off at home. The final score was 38-7, which pretty well tells the story but somehow even feels less lopsided than the game action.
For all that has gone right for the Vikings this season — and there is plenty, since they are 8-4 and still tied for the NFC North with the Packers, who have plenty of problems of their own — they have yet to defeat a very good team. They came close with a “good” loss at Denver. They get credit for a win that looks better in retrospect against Kansas City. But against the two best NFC teams on their schedule, the Vikings have lost by a combined score of 68-20.
We keep asking the question: if Teddy Bridgewater finds himself in a game where he is forced to throw to keep the Vikings in it, can he (and his offensive line and receivers, again in no particular order) rise to the challenge and be more than a game-managing offense?
So far, the answer is a resounding, “No.” It’s to the point where the Vikings and particularly their offense (though the defense gets plenty of blame against Seattle in particular) is guilty until proven innocent against very good teams. The default position is that they can’t keep up until they show us that they can.
Their next opportunity, as luck would have it, is a mere 100 hours away, when they face the Cardinals in Arizona. The Vikings came out of this Seattle game banged up physically and dazed mentally. But pro sports are about results. Now more than ever, the Vikings need to prove it in a “prove it” game. They can still make the playoffs without beating a great team, but they won’t go far without it.