Vikings Seahawks

A Green Bay loss last week helps make the road to the NFC North title a little clearer for the Minnesota Vikings. But first, they’ve got to get past the Seattle Seahawks. That game is Monday night.

EAGAN, Minn. — For the first time in two months, the Vikings control their future in the NFC North. If they win their final five games, they will be division champions.

Things changed Sunday night when Green Bay lost to San Francisco, 37-8. Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes didn’t watch the game but soon learned of the result.

“That put a smile on a lot of our faces knowing that we have a good chance of taking the division,” Rhodes said after practice Tuesday, the Vikings’ first following their bye week. “Now, we’ve just got to win out these last five games, and if we do that, we’ll be great. We’d be sitting at the top of our division.”

The Vikings (8-3) and Packers (8-3) play Dec. 23 at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Packers hold tiebreakers with Minnesota because they beat the Vikings 21-16 in Week 2 and have a better NFC North record (3-0) than Minnesota (1-2). But the Vikings would erase all that by winning out.

That, of course, won’t be easy. On Monday, they return from the bye week to play the Seahawks (9-2) in Seattle, the Vikings’ biggest game so far this season.

A win would put the Vikings in good position win the division help their chances to be one of the top two seeds in the NFC, which includes a first-round playoff bye. A loss could mean settling for the NFC’s second wild-card spot.

“We know the stakes; everybody knows the stakes,” linebacker Eric Kendricks said. “Monday night makes it a little bit bigger, in Seattle, but, I mean, you’ve got to live for these kinds of moments.”

It appears the Vikings will have Adam Thielen back. The receiver returned to practice Tuesday after missing three of the past four games because of a hamstring injury. Guard Josh Kline also returned to practice; he sat the Vikings’ 27-23 win over Denver on Nov. 17 with a concussion.

But six starters missed practice Tuesday: Nose tackle Linval Joseph (knee), safeties Harrison Smith (hamstring) and Anthony Harris (groin), defensive end Everson Griffen (undisclosed), defensive tackle Shamar Stephen (knee) and linebacker Ben Gedeon (concussion).

Rhodes was not concerned about the Vikings possibly facing Seattle and quarterback Russell Wilson, a strong MVP candidate, without some key defensive starters.

“It’s football,” Rhodes said. “It’s going to be next man up.”

Joseph has missed the past two games, and Harris sat out against the Broncos. Smith and Gedeon both were knocked out of the Denver game.

Tight end Kyle Rudolph said he has “no concerns” about the injuries. The bye week, he added, was a welcome break.

“You get to kind of rest and recover and recharge before a big December run,” he said. “… We want to keep pace with these good teams in the NFC. We’ve just got to keep winning every week.”

It would take a total collapse for the Vikings not to make the playoffs. ESPN gives them a 92.9% chance.

After facing the Seahawks, the Vikings have three of their final four games at home: Detroit on Dec. 8, Green Bay and Chicago on Dec. 29. They play the Chargers in L.A. on Dec. 15.

If the Vikings beat the Seahawks, they won’t lose ground to NFC West leader San Francisco (10-1) and NFC South leader New Orleans (9-2) in the race for one of the top two NFC seeds. They also would win a possible tiebreaker with Seattle.

A loss would seriously damage the Vikings’ chances of winning the NFC North, and possibly end any chance of catching the Seahawks for wild-card positioning.

“It’s a big game,” tight end Irv Smith Jr. said. “The Seahawks are very talented and have a great record. … It’s huge.”

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