Souhan: Why not-great Vikings have shot at winning not-great NFC

The Vikings enter the playoffs with one of the NFL's worst defenses, a makeshift offensive line, a history of postseason flops, a rookie head coach and a resume pocked with lopsided losses.

They might be the worst 13-victory team in NFL history. They were outscored by three points over the course of the season, and only a wild array of fortunate bounces and clutch plays allowed them to become the first team ever to go 11-0 in one-score games.

If this sounds like a recipe for postseason disaster, you're not paying enough attention to the competition.

This might be the weakest playoff field in NFC history. The Vikings fit right in.

Philadelphia earned the No. 1 seed by finishing 14-3. The Eagles looked like the best team in the league for much of the season, and quarterback Jalen Hurts seemed to be the top candidate for league MVP.

On Dec. 18 against Chicago, Hurts injured his right shoulder. That day, the Eagles barely beat the not-even-trying Bears. Then the Eagles lost to Dallas and New Orleans. In their season finale, on Sunday, they beat the Giants 22-16, as New York rested quarterback Daniel Jones, running back Saquon Barkley and some of their best linemen.

The NFC's top seed hasn't looked good since Dec. 11, in a 48-22 victory over the Giants.

Seventh-seeded Seattle, with journeyman quarterback Geno Smith, finished 9-8 and earned a playoff spot only because Green Bay couldn't beat Detroit at home on Sunday. The Seahawks' point differential was plus-6, even though they got to play four games against two of the league's worst teams, Arizona and the Rams.

The sixth-seeded Giants finished 9-7-1 and were outscored by six points. They went 0-6 against NFC playoff teams.

Fifth-seeded Dallas is talented, yet the Cowboys prepared for the playoffs by losing 26-6 to Washington, looking even more inept than the score would suggest. In their last four games, the Cowboys are 2-2, with their victories coming against backup quarterbacks Gardner Minshew and Joshua Dobbs.

Tampa Bay is the fourth seed, not on the merit of record but because they won a division that included zero teams with winning records. The Buccaneers are 8-9, Tom Brady took time off during training camp and during a game weekend for personal reasons, and they are 6-9 since starting the season with two victories. On Sunday, they lost 30-17 to Atlanta.

Second-seeded San Francisco looks different than anyone else in the NFC bracket. The 49ers have won 10 in a row. They are the only team in NFL history to have All-Pros at running back, tight end and receiver. They have the league's top-ranked defenses and one of its most admired coaches in Kyle Shanahan.

They also have, at quarterback, the last pick in the 2022 draft, Brock Purdy. He has played exceptionally well. Is he ready to lead a team through the playoffs?

If you listen to NFL player interviews, you've heard the phrase "iron sharpens iron." The NFC is more a case of tissue irritating tissue.

The AFC features perhaps the three strongest teams and best quarterbacks: Kansas City and Patrick Mahomes, Cincinnati and Joe Burrow, Buffalo and Josh Allen.

NFC starting playoff quarterbacks other than Brady have produced two playoff victories.

Vikings defensive tackle Harrison Phillips, while playing with Buffalo, had his past two seasons ended in the divisional round and conference title game by Mahomes. There is no one like Mahomes in the NFC.

Any pessimism about the Vikings' chances to reach the Super Bowl should be tempered by the quality of the NFC field. Only the 49ers could be described as currently imposing, and they are quarterbacked by someone who earned the nickname of Mr. Irrelevant for being the last player drafted.

"I think if you look at it historically, in the playoffs, it's truly an any-given-Sunday type of thing," Phillips said. "The ball is shaped weird for a reason and it can bounce different ways."

The NFC playoff field is similarly misshapen. Maybe this is a good year for the Vikings to be pretty good.