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Can the Minnesota Vikings Make a Playoff Run After a Rough Start?

The Minnesota Vikings are living up to their reputation for high-stakes, nail-biting games this season. Following last year's streak of 11 consecutive victories in games decided by eight points or fewer, the Vikings' 2022 journey has been a rollercoaster of close contests and unpredictable outcomes.

Their campaign began with four losses in the first five games, all decided by that familiar eight-point margin. However, they quickly bounced back with five consecutive wins, four of which were won within that narrow margin, even after losing quarterback Kirk Cousins to a season-ending Achilles tear. Yet, they've encountered setbacks again, dropping two games within the final two minutes by a combined three points, including a tough 12-10 defeat to the Bears on Monday.

With a 5-6 record in these tightly contested games, the Vikings seem to be hovering around where they belong. The team has won their solitary game decided by more than eight points—a remarkable 14-point victory over the Packers in Week 8, the same game Cousins was injured. Last season, they were considered a below-average team with an extraordinary stroke of luck. In contrast, this season, metrics like

DVOA view them as an average team encountering below-average luck, notably in their struggles to recover just 16 of the staggering 41 fumbles in their games.

However, there's been a significant transformation in their defensive prowess under coordinator Brian Flores. The defense, once a porous unit, has remarkably improved, ranking as the league's fourth-best defense by expected points added (EPA) since Week 4. Flores' strategic impact is evident in the Vikings' second-ranked pass defense by QBR allowed, showcasing their effectiveness both in aggressive blitzing and when rushing with four or fewer players.

The defensive resurgence is more commendable given the absence of key players like Marcus Davenport, Lewis Cine, and Andrew Booth due to injuries or limited playing time. Nevertheless, other young talents have stepped up remarkably. Players like Ivan Pace and Josh Metellus have showcased their prowess, compensating for the missing pieces and contributing significantly to the team's defensive success.

Despite a stalwart defensive performance in their recent game against the Bears, preventing touchdowns and allowing only field goals, the Vikings' offensive struggles were evident. Quarterback Joshua Dobbs, though previously showing promise, threw four interceptions, revealing the limitations of relying on a quarterback prone to turnovers. With Dobbs' inconsistent performance and Nick Mullens, an

alternative quarterback option, the team faces a crucial decision regarding their starting quarterback post their upcoming bye week.

Considering the defense's solid display, opting for a quarterback with lower turnover likelihood might be the Vikings' best strategy. Although Dobbs' interception rate is lower than Mullens', his frequent fumbling poses a significant threat. Mullens' past experience in a Kyle Shanahan offense makes him a productive passer, evident in his yards per attempt, a promising factor for the team's offensive efficiency.

However, Dobbs' standout quality lies in his ability to maneuver and create opportunities with his legs, surpassing all quarterbacks in rushing yards over expectation on scrambles. His mobility serves as a safety net for the offense, especially when pass protection falters—an aspect where Mullens lacks.

The return of star receiver Justin Jefferson from injury after the bye week is anticipated to boost the offense significantly. His absence due to a hamstring injury has been felt, given his stellar performance before the setback, averaging nearly 3.0 yards per route run and over 114 receiving yards per game.

The Vikings' upcoming games against the Raiders and Bengals present opportunities

to regain momentum before crucial matchups with the Lions and Packers, games that could potentially define their playoff prospects for this season. With the Vikings aiming to secure their place in the playoffs, these forthcoming clashes will undoubtedly be pivotal in determining their postseason fate.

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