In a weak NFC wild-card race, once 1-4 Vikings might be on their way to playoffs

The Minnesota Vikings epitomize the weird 2023 NFL season.

Two weeks ago they were 1-4. Superstar receiver Justin Jefferson went on injured reserve with a hamstring injury. The talk surrounding the Vikings was that they might as well trade Kirk Cousins while they could. There was a story that Cousins wouldn't waive his no-trade clause, an important topic because it seemed the Vikings should be sellers.

Two weeks. That's all it took for the Vikings to go from desperate sellers to a pretty good spot to make the playoffs.

That says something about the Vikings. It probably says more about the NFC.

NFC wild-card race is wide open

If the Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, Detroit Lions, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks and whoever wins the NFC South (probably the Atlanta Falcons, who have one of the easiest remaining schedules you'll ever see) don't make the playoffs, it's a pretty big failure. Because once you get past that tier, it's ugly.

The NFC is going to have seven playoff teams, but the last one won't be that great. The NFC South champ probably won't be very good either, though someone like Atlanta could end up with a decent record.

Right now, the No. 7 seed in the NFC would be the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who are 3-3, have lost three of their last four games and are big underdogs at the Buffalo Bills on Thursday night. Nobody else in the NFC has a winning record.

That's why the Vikings are still alive.

The Vikings beat the Chicago Bears and then upset the 49ers on Monday night. The Cousins trade talk died down quickly after that.

The NFC's 3-4 teams are the Vikings, Washington Commanders, Los Angeles Rams and New Orleans Saints. Look at that group, add the Buccaneers, and you can see why the Vikings should feel pretty confident.

Kirk Cousins and the Vikings have a lot more optimism after a two-game winning streak. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)
Kirk Cousins and the Vikings have a lot more optimism after a two-game winning streak. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images) (Stephen Maturen via Getty Images)

Vikings have favorable schedule

The Vikings also have a lot of winnable games coming up. Here are their next six games: at Packers, at Falcons, vs. Saints, at Broncos, vs. Bears and at Raiders. Minnesota probably isn't going 6-0, but there's no game in that stretch they can't win. That's especially true if Jefferson returns sooner rather than later. Minnesota, which was incredibly lucky last season in close games, lost four games by seven or fewer points early this season. The Vikings probably weren't a bad team, just one that found itself in a big 1-4 hole after five games.

This season, you probably don't need 10 wins to get the No. 7 seed. It's possible we look up in six weeks and the Vikings have seven or eight wins. And we wanted to bury them just two weeks ago.

This is a reason why teams can be hesitant to trade. A team like the Denver Broncos can talk themselves into being alive if they upset the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday to go to 3-4. The Vikings were 1-4 and, in a blink, they're alive and well in the playoff race. The NFL changes fast, especially this season.

The Vikings were in serious trouble at kickoff on Oct. 15, and by the end of the night on Oct. 23 they were in a great spot to make the playoffs. So if your team stinks now, don't worry. Things can flip fast in two weeks, especially in the NFC.