Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Pat Williams hurt; and, first-round bye?

The news regarding Pat Williams' shoulder injury is not as bad as it could be, but it's also not great. Big #94 is expected to miss two to six weeks with a broken right scapula (shoulder), with recovery time expected to be about four weeks. That could put him back on defense by the second week of the playoffs, which could be the Vikings' first or second postseason game (more on this below), depending on how things shake out. Fred Evans will take over at defensive tackle with Williams out, with Ellis Wyms also seeing time.

As I've frequently noted, while Pat Williams is a big part (literally) of the defense, and he's a whole lot of fun to watch, I also think he's a big overrated, as he's a near non-factor against the passing game (when he's in the game at all), which teams tend to use a lot against the Vikings, sometimes to the complete exclusion of the passing game.

Now, I certainly agree that part of the reason for opponents' playcalling is because of Williams' presence, but I would have no problem sacrificing some of the Vikings' ability against the run if it meant improving the pass defense. Granted, this year, the pass defense has been notably better than in years past, and the improved pass rush, led by Jared Allen, has had a lot to do with that. The Vikings' last two games are against the best two rushing teams in the league, Atlanta and New York, but Michael Turner and Jerious Norwood aren't exactly between-the-tackles kinds of guys, and the Giants' Brandon Jacobs has a gimpy knee. The Vikings still have Allen and Kevin Williams on the line, along with Chad Greenway (who could be a dark-horse Pro Bowl candidate) and Ben Leber on the next level, so I don't think the Vikings' run defense will suffer too greatly with Williams sidelined.

The question is, though, what will Williams come back to? He's certainly out for the rest of the two-week regular season but might be available when and if the Vikings make the playoffs. And figuring out exactly where the Vikings will land in the NFC playoff picture is an interesting question, indeed.

Right now, the 9-5 Vikings hold on to the #3 seed in the playoffs. The 11-3 Giants and 11-3 Panthers will play for the #1 seed this Sunday night. For the Vikings to work their way into a first-round by, they would have to win both their remaining games and have one of the Giants or Panthers lose their last two. Both teams would then be at 11-5 -- and the Vikings would automatically hold the tiebreaker.

Sound improbable? Well, hang on. Assume the Vikings beat the Falcons at home this weekend, to improve to 10-5. Since the Giants and Panthers play each other, the loser of that game would be 11-4. If the Giants lose, they then have a trip to Minnesota in the last week of the season. That game would then become extremely important to both teams, as the winner would be the #2 seed (the Vikings would hold the tiebreaker, thanks to their victory over the Giants) and get a first-round bye.

If the Panthers lose instead, the Vikings can still clinch the #2 seed if they beat the Giants (who, with home field wrapped up, might have little to play for and rest their starters) and if Carolina loses its final game of the season at New Orleans. Both teams would then finish 11-5 and, thanks to the Vikings' 20-10 win over Carolina in week three, the Vikings would take the #2 seed.

In either situation, as long as the Vikings win this week, they'll win their division and be in the running for the #2 seed -- and might even have a chance to control their own destiny in playoff seeding. Who would have thought that after the team's awful start? Heck, I'm even optimistic that Tarvaris Jackson's looking like he'll make his second straight start this Sunday.

And the full moon was four days ago.

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