Neal: Why not a win streak? Vikings’ hot offense, soft schedule spark holiday optimism

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This is the holiday season, and Vikings fans suddenly have plenty to be thankful for.

The Purple on Sunday knocked off the division-leading Green Bay Packers behind a masterful performance by Justin Jefferson and aerial artistry of Kirk Cousins. The 5-5 Vikings will spend Turkey Day sitting in an NFC wild-card spot.

One holiday prior, the Vikings had just come undone against Dallas and went to bed Halloween night at 3-4. They lost again the following week in Baltimore and the job security of head coach Mike Zimmer and his coaching staff were in question.

Then the offensive surge kicked in, the roster got healthy — except for the season-ending injury to pass rusher Danielle Hunter — and these Vikings now look ready for a run. Take a look at the schedule and you'll see that after a stretch of meaty matchups they now face several winnable games.

It begins on Sunday when the Vikings travel to San Francisco. The 49ers, who sputtered through a four-game losing streak earlier in the season, are favored but by only three points. After that, the woebegone Lions, the flawed Steelers at home on Thursday night and then the Bears and — maybe — their embattled head coach Matt Nagy await them for a Monday Nighter. When the team plane leaves Chicago on Dec. 20, the Vikings could be 8-6 or even 9-5, which would be quite a Christmas present for a fan base that was full of Grinches a few weeks ago.

To do this, the Vikings need to sustain their recent aggressive mentality on offense. Cousins threw for 341 yards on Sunday with three touchdowns. Jefferson had eight receptions for 169 yards and two touchdowns. Put the ball in the air and let your most gifted receiver go get it.

Adam Thielen had eight receptions for 82 yards and a touchdown. He runs weekly clinics on how to get open on a football field. He'll be available for big catches on any down.

It's good to see Zimmer actually encouraging his quarterback to be aggressive. The Vikings aren't saying that they are becoming a pass-first offense, but there's a push to push the ball downfield. Note to Kirk: I'd listen to the coach when he tells you, "Look, you try to score touchdowns. You let me back the game down when it's time to do it."

The biggest challenge ahead will be the defense trying to find ways to pressure the quarterback without Hunter. On Sunday, they got to Aaron Rodgers twice, but Rodgers enjoyed copious amounts of time in the pocket for much of the afternoon.With three seconds or more to release the ball, most NFL quarterbacks are going be successful.

This is another reason why the offense needs to remain on point — they might end up in a couple of shootouts while Zimmer and his staff figure out how to fluster opposing quarterbacks.

I write about a potential Purple surge fully aware of the volatility of the NFL, this season in particular. Houston winning at Tennessee on Sunday. Washington downing Tampa Bay in Week 10.Denver routing Dallas at Dallas in Week 9. Upsets every week. Surprises all around. Even when everyone knew that the Lions were going to struggle all season, we didn't know that opponents would be able to water their flowers with Dan Campbell's tears.

It's risky to forecast the Vikings ripping offfour more wins after taking down the Packers. But if the roster can stay relatively healthy — COVID concerns, injuries, all of it — and the offense continues to operate at a high level, a December winning streak should come down the chimney before their Dec. 26 game against the Los Angeles Rams.