The glass-is-half-full view of this Vikings season and their most recent effort against the Steelers is that even through all the ups and downs, Minnesota still controls its playoff destiny.
Win the last four games, and the Vikings are virtually guaranteed to make the postseason — a better than 99% chance, per FiveThirtyEight's projections.
As it stands now, the Vikings have a 33% chance to make the expanded seven-team NFC playoff field in this expanded 17-game season. Had Minnesota allowed Pittsburgh to come all the way back on Thursday, those odds would have been greatly diminished.
But the glass-is-half-empty view, which was more the rule than the exception on Monday's Daily Delivery podcast with Patrick Reusse, is that a glance at NFC playoff scenarios shows us more about how costly that loss two games ago to the Lions was than anything else.
FiveThirtyEight has this wonderful, frustrating tool that lets you plug in future outcomes for teams to see how wins and losses influence their playoff chances.
And for the Vikings, the difference between going 2-2 down the stretch and going 3-1 is massive.
If we plug in wins in the two games against the Bears — hardly guarantees but let's do it anyway — but losses to the Rams and Packers, the Vikings make the playoffs in just 8% of the scenarios while finishing 8-9.
But if we change just one outcome — a loss to the Rams becomes a win — the Vikings make the playoffs in 80% of scenarios while finishing 9-8.
While such a finish is still very much within the Vikings' reach, they would be 7-6 right now had they made one more play against the lowly Lions. And a 2-2 finish over their final four games — requiring just two wins over the dismal Bears — probably would have pushed the Vikings into the playoffs.
Controlling one's destiny without much margin for error is a dicey proposition. It's safe to say that if the Vikings miss the playoffs or make the playoffs, they will have earned their fate either way.