The Vikings Road through the Playoffs Looks Extremely Daunting
A few weeks ago, the case could have been made that the Vikings road through the playoffs in the NFC looked like the easiest of any of the top teams. Sitting in the No. 2 seed, it appeared that they’d be on their way to facing the No. 7 seed at home in the Wild Card round, then they’d get another home game in the Divisional, and they’d be able to avoid both the Cowboys and Eagles prior to the NFC Championship Game.
Even as early as 3 PM on Sunday, it seemed like the Vikings could make their road even easier by snagging the No. 1 seed after the Eagles lost their second game in a row to the New Orleans Saints. Now, though, after whatever that game was on Sunday at Lambeau Field, their road looks much more daunting for one reason: they likely have to go to San Francisco in the Divisional rather than hosting them.
If they somehow make it past San Francisco, then they’d likely have to go to Philly for the NFC Championship Game; it’s a place where the Vikings have already lost a game by a score of 24-7 this season. Granted, the Vikings didn’t have T.J. Hockenson in that game, but would he be able to make up for 17 points? I have my doubts.
However, the schedule is far from the only problem for these Vikings right now. Perhaps an even bigger issue right now is the injuries, particularly on the offensive line. In the Wild Card, the Minnesota Vikings have a 95.5% chance of facing the New York Giants for the second time. Obviously, the Vikings won the first matchup, but it took some bounces going their way, including a 61-yard field goal from Greg Joseph, to complete the 27-24 win.
Even with Brian O’Neill at right tackle for that game, Kirk Cousins faced oodles of pressure throughout the game, and he was sacked 4 times. O’Neill suffered what Kevin O’Connell called a “significant leg injury” in Week 17 against the Green Bay Packers, and he’s already out for Week 18 and potentially even longer.
This leaves Oli Udoh (and maybe Vederian Lowe?) to fill in for the Pro Bowler at right tackle moving forward. This comes at the exact wrong time for a potential New York Giants matchup. Here’s why.
Since Week 12, Giants rookie pass rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux has been terrorizing opponents. He’s recorded 28 tackles, 10 QB hits, 6 TFLs, and 3 sacks in that time. He’s also returned a fumble for a touchdown and put together pass defenses in back-to-back weeks.
Somehow, Thibodeaux may not be the most impressive young pass rusher on this Giants defense, either. For most of this season, second-year player Azeez Ojulari has been out with a hamstring injury. However, he returned in Week 13, and in the four games he’s played since then, the Georgia product has put together 4.5 sacks, 3 TFLs, and forced a pair of fumbles. He recorded this sack against the Vikings in Week 16:
Even further, New York may be getting reinforcements just in time for a playoff run. S Xavier McKinney missed nine consecutive games this season with a hand injury, but he returned to the lineup in Week 17. He played 48 snaps on defense for New York and recorded 7 tackles in their win over the Colts.
McKinney has been a big-time playmaker for the Giants defense when healthy. During 2021, he recorded 10 pass defenses and 5 interceptions for New York, ranking 4th in the NFL in interceptions. With CB Adoree Jackson still out, his presence in the secondary will be huge for New York through the playoffs.
Going against a weakened Vikings offensive line, a pair of surging pass rushers and adding some more veteran presence in the secondary only makes things that much more difficult on Kirk Cousins and the Vikings offense.
Of course, there’s still an outside chance that if the Vikings win against the Bears, and the 49ers lose against the Cardinals, then the Vikings reclaim the No. 2 seed. However, there’s a reason that the Vikings have such a high chance at the Giants being their Wild Card opponent. No one thinks the Niners will lose.
Because of that, between a toughened schedule and potentially shorthanded group in the trenches, the Vikings playoff run may be screeching to a halt before it even starts.
Josh Frey is a Class of 2020 graduate of The College of Idaho with a bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing. He also earned minors in History, Human Biology, and Journalism. When he’s not writing about the NFL, Josh enjoys marathon training, playing video games, or rooting for the Milwaukee Brewers and Bucks. For more of his opinions, check out his Twitter account: @Freyed_Chicken.