The Vikings’ road to the playoffs has only gotten harder as the team continues to fall short in close games. Their 16-13 loss at Detroit on Thursday was their third consecutive loss of six points or fewer, including a 22-16 overtime loss to Detroit at home in Week 9 and a 26-20 loss at Washington in Week 10.

It’s not going to get better in Week 13. Thursday, the Vikings face the best team in the NFL in the Dallas Cowboys, and with the way that offense produces points — and the Vikings’ lack of scoring capabilities — there’s no shot that the Vikings can get the win, even though they’re at home.

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said at his Friday news conference that the team’s mind-set has to stay the same going forward, even though the Vikings are now on the outside looking in for a playoff berth.

“Well, part of it is to do your job, and the other part is to finish and continue to play hard and believe,” Zimmer said. “Even when we were in the playoff mix, we didn’t ever talk about it. We just talked about the next game, and that’s all we’re going to continue to talk about is the next game coming up and the next game after that and the next game after that. We’ll find out how we want to fight and how we’re going to go about our business.”

The two teams in front of them in the NFC wild-card standings are the New York Giants (7-3) and the Washington Redskins (6-4-1). The Vikings hold the tiebreaker with the Giants from a 24-10 victory in Week 4 but lost that recent game to Washington, although that won’t mean much unless the Vikings end up with a tie as well.

The Redskins also played on Thursday, so they have only five games left. The Giants have six, but they will improve to 8-3 because they have a guaranteed victory at Cleveland on Sunday.

Still, the Vikings schedule does have some slight advantages. They have three home games — against Dallas, Indianapolis and Chicago — and their two road games are against some weaker-looking opponents: at Jacksonville and at vulnerable-looking Green Bay.

The Giants have a much more difficult schedule over their final five games, with road games at Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Washington and home games against Dallas and Detroit.The trouble for the Vikings is that the Giants are playing so well right now, having won five in a row.

The Redskins go at Arizona and at Philadelphia the next two weeks, then have a home game with Carolina, a road game against the miserable Bears and they end at home with the Giants.

That Giants-Redskins finale means, barring another tie, one of those teams will lose again for sure. But the Vikings still almost certainly need to win every game the rest of the way if they lose to Dallas on Thursday.

Gophers blow upset

Wisconsin continued its dominance of the Gophers on Saturday with a 31-17 victory at Camp Randall Stadium, the 13th consecutive year the Badgers have taken Paul Bunyan’s Axe.

With a 17-7 halftime lead and the score still tied at 17-17 with eight minutes to play, you could recall Gophers coach Tracy Claeys’ optimistic predictions this past week about his 2017 team, and those seem very possible. But when you have four second-half interceptions, you don’t win games. It’s still hard to figure out why the Badgers can continue to compete for the title in the Big Ten while the Gophers lag behind.

Wisconsin entered with the nation’s fifth-best defense at stopping the run at 98.3 yards per game, but that didn’t stop the Gophers, who, subtracting five sacks, rushed for 132 yards on 33 carries. But the failure of the passing game killed the visitors’ chance of scoring a big upset.

At 8-4, and with potentially two Big Ten teams going to the College Football Playoff, the Gophers will probably get one of the better bowl bids that they have had in recent memory.

Claeys is optimistic the team can do better in 2017, even with a tougher schedule, which includes a final five-game stretch of at Iowa, at Michigan, Nebraska at home, at Northwestern and Wisconsin at home. Claeys said last week the team is in good hands going forward because of its young players.

“You know, the schedule is you play whoever it is, but we have a lot of young people that are making plays,” Claeys said. “We have to get some more depth up front in the offensive line, we’re banged up, but I believe we’ll have that by next fall. At receiver we need to improve there and catch more footballs. You have to catch the bad balls, too.”

That’s something the Gophers didn’t do well Saturday.

As for replacing quarterback Mitch Leidner, Claeys said: “I’d like to get to where we go to more of dual-threat quarterback and I think we have those kids in the system right now. Seth Green has done awfully well. Demry Croft, we were able to keep the redshirt on him. We have Mark Williams here, who can play several positions. We’re going to work to get one signed this year and move more in that direction, which is the direction I would like to go.

“We have our backs back, and defensively we return a lot of guys. The hardest one there is Demarius Travis, I think we have some kids that will have the opportunity to get where he’s at. Like I say it’s fun, the year has been a lot of fun. I know people are disappointed we lost [four] games but took them down to the wire and had a chance to win them. I think we’re in a place that we’re rolling players in that we should be competitive every year now in the Big Ten.”

This should have been a bigger year for the Gophers, but some close, tough losses kept them out of the Big Ten championship discussion.

SID'S JOTTINGS

• Ticket-selling for local sports events must not be going very well, including the Wild, which announces sellouts for every game. The Wild and Timberwolves ran color advertisements in the Thanksgiving Day news­papers for discounts as a Black Friday special, while the Gophers had an online special on their website with discounts of up to 50 percent on winter sports tickets.

• Even though Justin Morneau is no longer with the Twins, the former American League MVP still conducted his coat drive for the Salvation Army on Friday and Saturday, with all the coats distributed to people in the Twin Cities.

• Maple Grove quarterback Brad Davison, who last week was named Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year, had one scholarship offer to play football, from South Dakota. His basketball offers came from the Gophers, Yale, Harvard, Stanford, Davidson and Wisconsin, where he chose to attend. Besides excelling at multiple sports, Davison is also a standout in academics.

• The three sons of Todd Oakes — the Gophers pitching coach for 18 years, who died May 26 from leukemia — are following in his footsteps. Tyler Oakes is the pitching coach and recruiting coordinator for North Dakota State. T.J. Oakes is the pitching coach for MIAC school St. Mary’s in Winona. And Tanner Oakes is a special education teacher in New Prague and an assistant coach for the New Prague baseball team.

• One of the bright spots in the Wolves’ dismal start to the season has been the continued improved play of guard Zach LaVine, who has increased his scoring and shooting percentage each year he has been in the league. He has improved his points per game from 10.1 to 14.0 last season to, entering Saturday, 18.6 this season. LaVine had been shooting better from three-point range this season, too, before he went 1-for-7 in the victory at Phoenix on Friday night.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and Sundays at 9:30 a.m. E-mail: shartman@startribune.com