From thankful to merry?
An optimist can see a lot of joy in this holiday season schedule for the Vikings, winners of two in a row. A look at the next five games for the 5-5 team currently sitting in the No. 6 seed in the NFC:
Sunday, Week 12: Minnesota returns to the West Coast with a tough one at 5-5 San Francisco (3:25 p.m., FOX), where the Vikings are three-point underdogs. A win would leave no doubt: This team is as hot as any team in the conference. A loss to the Niners, also winners of two straight, would be no reason to think the Vikings' suddenly healthy playoff hopes are doomed.
Dec. 5, Week 13: You win at Detroit (noon, CBS) if you plan on making the playoffs, it's that simple. The Lions are 0-9-1 and have earned that mark.
Dec. 9 (Thursday), Week 14: A winning franchise, a winning coach, a winning quarterback, but these 5-4-1 Steelers don't scare anybody this season. This prime-time (7:20 p.m., FOX) home game could be a statement game for Kirk Cousins.
Dec. 20 (Monday), Week 15: Speaking of prime-time statement games, this Vikings-Bears clash (7:15 p.m., ESPN) is less than a month away but a lot could change between now and then, including the head coach in Chicago.
Dec. 26, Week 16: The Vikings are currently 4-2 in the NFC, while none of the other teams they're battling for seeding (the Saints, 49ers, Eagles and Panthers) have fewer than three conference losses. The 7-3 Rams come to Minneapolis the day after Christmas (noon, FOX) in a game that could have a lot of playoff-seeding stakes attached.
The Vikings don't need to be 10-5 when they go to bed the day after Christmas. Even a 3-2 stretch here would put them at 8-7 and in good position to finish with a winning record — the final two games are at Green Bay and at home against the Bears — and make the playoffs.