Minnesota can make the playoffs

Christian Ponder hasn't thrown an interception yet this season for the Vikings. Sam Riche/Getty Images

One of the consequences of the NFL's 2002 switch to a playoff structure with four division winners and only two wild-card teams per conference was a reduction in the number of times a single division would yield three playoff teams.

From 1978 to 2001 (sans the strike-shortened 1982 season), this happened in 45.6 percent of the conference playoff brackets. By contrast, in the 10 seasons since the structural change, this has occurred only 15 percent of the time.

It was thought that the NFC North might have a chance to rack up one of these rare instances in the 2012 season because it has the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions (playoff teams from 2011), along with the Chicago Bears -- a team that very likely would have made the playoffs last year had it not been for injuries to Jay Cutler and Matt Forte.

As good a shot as those teams give this division at earning the honor of three playoff teams, those odds have actually increased with the surprising development of the Minnesota Vikings. The Purple and Gold's 3-1 record might not have convinced many that this team has strong playoff potential, but a review of the game tape and metrics indicates Leslie Frazier's squad is a bona fide postseason contender.