Less than a month ago, the Vikings were riding a five-game winning streak into a home showdown with slumping Green Bay and had a chance to take firm control of the NFC North. A win in that game would have allowed Minnesota, even with a stumble or two, to coast to the finish as a division winner.
But if recent history has taught us anything, it’s that the Vikings — even when they’re good — rarely make it easy on themselves or fans. When it comes to the playoffs, it’s often a scramble to the finish in one way or another.
It’s setting up again that way this season, with Minnesota having lost that game to Green Bay to start a 1-3 slide that left the Vikings with work to do for a chance to win the division and holding tightly to a wild card spot that is a strong possibility but no sure thing.
This has been the norm since 1990, when the NFL expanded to six playoff teams, with two teams in each conference getting a bye. The exceptions? The 1992 Vikings, who cruised to the title in an awful division that included three 5-11 teams before getting bounced early by Washington in the playoffs, and the 1998 Vikings, who blew the doors off everyone until the game about which we don’t speak. Everyone else:
1993: Vikings stumbled to a 6-7 record before scrambling to win their final three to get in as a wild card.
1994: Vikings started 7-2 before going 3-4 down the stretch, barely holding onto the division title ahead of three 9-7 teams.
1996: Vikings started 5-1 before going 1-5 in their next six games. They rallied to win three of their next four, slipping into the playoffs as the final wild card.
1997: Vikings started 8-2 before losing their next five games. They won the finale to squeak into the playoffs as the No. 6 seed at 9-7.
1999: Vikings put themselves in a 2-4 hole one season after their 15-1 stampede, scrambling to make the postseason thanks to an 8-2 finish.
2000: The playoffs weren’t in doubt after an 11-2 start, but the Vikings then lost their final three regular-season games. If Tampa Bay’s Martin Gramatica had made a 40-yard field goal against Green Bay in the finale, the Bucs would have won the division and the Vikings would have missed out on a bye — perhaps sparing us from the eventuality of 41-donut.
2003: Four teams tied for the worst record in the NFL that season at 4-12. The Vikings lost to all four of them. The final one, a loss at Arizona on a miracle TD catch by Nate Poole, booted the Vikings from the playoff chase at 9-7.
2004: Vikings lost four of their last five games to finish 8-8, backing into the playoffs thanks to help on the final day.
2008: Vikings blew a chance to clinch the division by losing to Atlanta in Week 16, but redeemed themselves with a Week 17 victory over the Giants.
2009: A team that started 10-1 tumbled to 11-4 and was only able to salvage a first-round bye with a victory over the Giants combined with a Philadelphia loss to Dallas.
2012: After a 6-6 start, the Vikings rallied to win their final four games, including in Week 17 over Green Bay that clinched a playoff spot.