Just three weeks ago the Vikings were 1-0 with an solid all-around effort in a win over the 49ers. Those were the good old days when the world still looked at the Vikings as the surefire NFC North winner.
Fast forward to present day and the Chicago Bears look like the team to beat in the division, followed by the Packers and then the Vikings.
The Bears are 3-1 with a top-five defense led by the best player defensive player in the NFL, Khalil Mack, who tied an NFL record Sunday with his fourth straight game with a sack and forced fumble. The Packers, meanwhile, made mincemeat out of the same Bills team that carved up the Vikings like a Halloween pumpkin.
Vikes need to take advantage of next 5 games
Five games before the Week 10 bye gives Minnesota a total of six weeks to get back on track before the schedule gets very difficult. The next five weeks look like this: at Philadelphia (2-2), vs. Arizona (0-4), at New York Jets (1-3), vs. New Orleans (3-1), vs. Detroit (1-3).
Winning at Philly will be a challenge, but the Eagles have yet to look as explosive as they did against the Vikings in last year's NFC title game and the Super Bowl. The Eagles blew a 17-3 lead and lost to the Titans on Sunday, a defeat that has Eagles feeling as lost as the Vikings are.
"I don't know, but we sure played like crap," defensive end Chris Long said, via Philly.com. "Everybody's trying to get it fixed. Everybody wants to win. It isn't a decision we make that, 'OK, we're going to play like crap.' So, as far as ramping up urgency, we've been urgent. We're just making too many mistakes across the board. I'm disgusted with the way we played. But we don't have to reinvent the wheel. We just need to stick to what got us here."
If the Vikings beat Philly, great. They'd be 2-2-1 entering what should be back-to-back wins against the Cardinals and Jets. Lose in Philly and they're 1-3-1 with winnable games back-to-back. Either way, it won't be time to panic unless the Cardinals or Jets run up the score on the Vikings the way the Bills and Rams did.
After that the schedule returns Minnesota to U.S. Bank Stadium for a rematch with the Saints, who appear to be putting it all together after blasting the Giants on Sunday. Then its's the Lions at home.
Going 3-2 or 4-1 will put the Vikings at 4-4-1 or 5-3-1 entering their bye week. Anything less could be devastating because the schedule gets nasty down the stretch: at Chicago (3-1), vs. Green Bay (2-1-1), at New England (2-2), at Seattle (2-2), vs. Miami (3-1), at Detroit (1-3), vs. Chicago (3-1).
A 4-4-1 record at the bye would force them to go 6-1 with that tough finishing schedule just to reach 10 wins, which might be necessary to make the playoffs.
Bottom line is that Minnesota already has close to zero room for error.