The results are not final. There is a path to victory, however narrow or challenged. The path winds through battleground states and traditional strongholds. Patience is advised, and there is no need to declare a winner until all of the results are in.
The Vikings have not yet been evicted from the playoffs. Not mathematically, and not practically, no matter how many sleepless nights they have caused.
Here is what needs to happen for the Vikings to overcome a 1-5 start to make the playoffs and turn Minnesota purple again:
1. Get lucky, be careful, or both.
Wearing a mask and avoiding crowds may help players avoid the coronavirus, but luck is required. The Vikings get to face the Lions when their starting quarterback, Matthew Stafford, hasn’t practiced in a week. Stafford has tested negative for the virus but won’t come off the restricted list until Saturday night, if he continues to test negative.
If the Vikings can avoid costly quarantines and trips to the COVID list the rest of the way, they could face any number of COVID-diminished teams, and they may be able to pass contenders like the 49ers that have experienced outbreaks.
2. Benefit from expanded playoffs.
In a normal season, starting 1-5 would likely be disqualifying. But if the NFL expands its playoffs to eight teams per conference, the Vikings could contend by reaching eight or nine victories, a difficult but not impossible task.
3. Sweep the Lions.
An upset at Green Bay got the Vikings to two victories. Two victories over their traditional punching bags from Detroit would get them to four. Yes, the Lions are in position to boost the Vikings once again.
4. Roar through the patsies.
After the Lions on Sunday and a trip to Chicago next Sunday, the Vikings play three straight home games against teams with significant injuries and losing records — Dallas, Carolina and Jacksonville. Win those three and sweep Detroit and the victory total is seven.
5. Beat the Bears.
At least once. The Vikings traditionally play poorly in Chicago, but this is a flawed Bears team with a terrible offense. Beating them at least once, presumably at home, gets the victory total to eight.
6. Win one tough one.
There are three daunting games remaining on the schedule — at Chicago, at Tampa Bay and at New Orleans. Two weeks ago, they might have been projected as three certain losses, but then the Vikings won at Lambeau Field.
Win one of those three, the victory total is nine, which might claim a wild-card berth.
The Vikings can make such a run if:
1. Dalvin Cook stays healthy.
If Cook had not missed time this season, the Vikings probably would have won at Seattle and may have beaten Atlanta at home. His presence changes everything.
2. Kirk Cousins is careful.
Not all interceptions are created equal. Many of Cousins’ interceptions this year have been devastating.
The Vikings trailed Green Bay by eight in the opener when Cousins threw an interception that turned into a quick-strike TD. The Packers went up 22-7 and won 43-34.
The Vikings trailed 12-3 when Cousins threw an interception toward the end of the first half at Indy, leading to a field goal and a 15-3 deficit. Indy won 28-11.
The Vikings trailed Seattle 14-13 in the third quarter. A Cousins interception led to a Seattle touchdown, making it 21-13. Seattle won 27-26.
The Vikings led Tennessee 17-9 at the half. Cousins threw an interception on the first play of the second half. Tennessee won 31-30.
Cousins threw two first-half interceptions against Atlanta, helping Atlanta to a 17-0 lead. Atlanta won 40-23.
If Cousins cuts down on unforced and untimely interceptions, the Vikings offense could feature its many skill-position talents.
3. Cam Dantzler gets healthy.
The Vikings need healthy cornerbacks.
4. Ifeadi Odenigbo proves himself.
Odenigbo thought he would be a starter at defensive end this year and his reaction on social media when the Vikings traded for Yannick Ngakoue was less than joyous.
If he becomes a standout starter, the Vikings could survive the losses of Linval Joseph, Michael Pierce, Ngakoue and the great Danielle Hunter.
The Vikings face long odds, but this is a rare season in which a 1-5 start may not be fatal.