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Playoffs start this weekend for Vikings

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) and Chicago Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky (10) shake hands after the Nov. 18 game at Soldier Field. The two teams meet up again on Sunday, with playoff implications for both. Quinn Harris / USA TODAY Sports

EAGAN, Minn. -- Vikings coach Mike Zimmer claims he wasn’t scoreboard watching at Ford Field on Sunday afternoon, even as his team thoroughly dismantled the Detroits Lions in the second half of a 27-9 victory.

“I didn’t even know where the scoreboards were,” Zimmer said Monday, Dec. 24. “I was hoping I could find the clock for our game and the timeouts and stuff like that.”

His players couldn’t say the same thing. After the game ended, the entire locker room tuned in to nearby television sets to see if the Houston Texans could upend the Philadelphia Eagles — which would have helped the Vikings clinch a playoff berth.

As everyone knows by now, Eagles quarterback Nick Foles orchestrated a masterful drive that ended with Jake Elliott nailing a game-winning field goal as time expired. That means the pressure is still on the Vikings heading into Sunday’s regular-season finale against the Chicago Bears.

Chicago (11-4) still has a chance at the No. 2 seed and will be coming to the Twin Cities with a lot to play for.

“We know the ball is in our court, as it has been for several weeks now,” quarterback Kirk Cousins said. “If we win, (we’re in). If we don’t, we’ll have to see what happens around the league.”

For the Vikings, the playoffs are essentially here, every game from here on out a must win. Sunday’s game will reveal a lot about the Vikings, allowing them to flex their muscles as a legit contender or, conversely, outing them as a pretender that still hasn’t beaten a team with a winning record.

If the Vikings can’t beat the Bears at home in a must-win situation, maybe they don’t belong in the playoffs.

“That’s why we play,” safety Harrison Smith said. “Those are the games we want to play in. It’s good.”

While the Vikings can still make the playoffs with a loss, that scenario is a little hairy, requiring already-eliminated Washington to beat the red-hot Eagles, last year’s Super Bowl champions.

“Hopefully, we can get the job done next week,” Cousins said. “We are going to enjoy our Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and then get back to work and try to finish this regular season strong.”

As a way to reward his team, Zimmer gave his players Monday off, allowing them to relax heading into the holiday rather than grind through film.

“These guys have been working hard,” the coach said. “I wanted them to spend time with their families and we’ll get back to work on Wednesday.”

When the Vikings return to TCO Performance Center in Eagan, the old cliche will never ring more true: All that matters now is the “next game” on the schedule.

The Vikings have won their past two games, and three of their past five, but lost to the Bears in Chicago, 25-20, on Nov. 18.

The Bears have won eight of their past nine games.

“We have a lot of guys that have a lot of pride and character,” Zimmer said. “They will be ready for the challenge. It will be a great challenge. I feel good about it.”

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