After starting the year 7-2, the Minnesota Vikings looked poised to win their first NFC North title since 2009. But then an odd thing happened: The Vikings lost two of their next three games – to Green Bay and Seattle – by a combined 48 points.

Minnesota also to Arizona, 23-20, on Thursday – its third loss in four games – to fall to 8-5.

Still, there is reason to hope in Minnesota – at least for Vikings radio analyst Pete Bercich.

“I think this team is really, really close,” Bercich said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “To be down four starters and to play like that against Arizona (was impressive). They won four games in a row on the road – something that hadn’t been done since the ’70s. They tied the ’98 team when they won four in a row. Man, when we get Harrison Smith and (Anthony) Barr back and Linval Joseph back – three playmakers, by the way, three of our better defenders – (we’ll be in good shape).”

Minnesota hung tough with Arizona through three quarters, fell behind by 10 in the fourth, rallied to tie the game, fell behind by three, and were driving to tie the game in the final seconds and force overtime. But then Dwight Freeney stripped Teddy Bridgewater to preserve the win for Arizona.

Thus, Minnesota lost by three points despite losing the turnover battle 3-0 – all on fumbles. Not bad for a team four days removed from easily its worst performance of the season.

“I keep my fingers crossed, but if we can get rid of that turnover bug, I think we can do some damage in the postseason,” Bercich said. “I don’t think teams are going to be too eager to play us depending on how the next two or three weeks go.”

While the Packers (8-4) have the inside track to win their fifth straight division title, the Vikings have to be encouraged by their performance. Now they just need to get healthy.

“If we don’t get healthy, it’s going to be a struggle,” Bercich said. “But if we get healthy and get those guys back on defense, (we’ll be fine). We just got to take care of Chicago and New York (at home) and then (we head) to Lambeau for a big game at the end of the season. But I do think that this team is better than people think. It may take some people by surprise. I’m faithful. Haven’t always been. I’ve been around this team for 20 years, but this is a good squad.”


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