The Vikings’ loss Sunday at Carolina ended their eight-game winning streak and served as a reminder that this is a team with flaws. The Vikings, however, weren’t the only team to get this reminder in Week 14.
The New England Patriots also had their eight-game winning streak with a seven-point loss on Monday night in Miami. The Los Angeles Rams missed on an opportunity to get their 10th victory, losing 43-35 against Philadelphia.
The Eagles improved to an NFC-best 11-2 with the win, but suffered a potentially devastating blow in the second half when star quarterback Carson Wentz suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
A few weeks ago, the assumption was the Eagles might be the biggest roadblock in the Vikings’ quest to become the first team to play host to a Super Bowl. Now, the Eagles are going to have to hope that veteran Nick Foles can pick up where Wentz left off.
So who is the class of the NFC? That is the thing about the conference and the NFL as a whole.
There are quality teams – the Vikings being among them – but there is no team you fear. There is no club you look at and say, “Well, once you get to that club, it’s likely over.”
A list of the tops teams in the NFC right now would include, in no particular order, the Eagles, Vikings (10-3), Saints (9-4), Panthers (9-4), Falcons (8-5), Rams (9-4) and Seahawks (8-5). If you had to pick a top four it would be Philadelphia, Minnesota, New Orleans and Los Angeles.
The Vikings are on their third choice at quarterback, the Rams have a second-year and non-playoff tested QB in Jared Goff and the Eagles are now forced to turn to their backup. The Saints, who finally seem to have gotten the fact that defense is important, have the best QB situation with soon-to-be 39-year-old Drew Brees leading the way.
The Vikings’ biggest concern is the injury that left tackle Riley Reiff suffered to his left ankle in the third quarter of Sunday’s game. Reiff was forced to leave and the Vikings suddenly had the guy who started at right tackle (Rashod Hill) playing left tackle; rookie fifth-round pick Danny Isidora at left guard; Nick Easton, normally the starting left guard, at center (in place of the injured Pat Elflein); Joe Berger at right guard (his normal spot!); and Jeremiah Sirles, who started for Easton at right guard, at right tackle.
This was the type of offensive line combination – minus T.J. Clemmings, of course – that got the Vikings in so much trouble a year ago. But coach Mike Zimmer indicated on Monday that Reiff’s injury wasn’t as bad as first feared and Elflein is expected back soon from his shoulder injury.
Starting right tackle Mike Remmers, who like Reiff was signed as a free agent this offseason, hasn’t played since the bye week (five games) because of a concussion and now a back problem. The Vikings can win with Hill at right tackle in place of Remmers, but Reiff’s return is essential to their success.
How far could that potential success take them?
The Vikings defense made some uncharacteristic mistakes on Sunday, but it’s unlikely those will be repeated. Zimmer’s defense remains one of the best in the NFL and has the personnel to frustrate foes, provided the group of Everson Griffen, Linval Joseph, Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith stay healthy.
Are there concerns about guys like Keenum and kicker Kai Forbath in a playoff game? Absolutely. But there are concerns when it comes to every single team in this league. That includes the Patriots and Steelers and the Vikings wouldn’t even have to think about them until that little Feb. 4 game at U.S. Bank Stadium.
That’s what is going to make the coming weeks so interesting for the Vikings. In the end, the Vikings’ biggest roadblock might be themselves and not their opponents. But if they can stay out of their own way, there’s no reason this team can’t be playing into late January and maybe beyond.