The Minnesota Vikings are 10-2 and need just one more win to complete the five game sweep of what many called the “gauntlet” of our season. Since coming off the bye at 6-2 facing a lot of questions, the Vikes have rattled off four straight wins, all against winning teams (at the time), while overtaking the top spot in the NFC. A stretch of the season many expected to account for a majority of the team’s losses have only contributed to what is now an eight-game winning streak (including five on the road).
Just five weeks ago, Teddy Bridgewater was named to the active roster and at 6-2 with a streak of five tough games ahead (@WSH, LA, @DET, @ATL, @CAR), many people both inside and outside the locker room were sure that Teddy would take back the starting job by season’s end, especially considering Zimmer’s infatuation with the QB. Well it’s December, the Vikings have not lost in ten weeks and Case Keenum has done more than enough to keep the starting job for the rest of the season. Nobody in the Vikings covenant, no matter how big of a homer, would have ever believed that a Keenum-led Vikings team without Dalvin Cook would hold the number one seed in the NFC in December. I don’t know how many times I can talk about how unlikely this all is or how lucky the Vikings have gotten, etc. The Vikings look like an elite, championship level team and they have all the pieces you’d want in a Super Bowl contender. Well, almost all of them.
- Elite Defense: check. I’m not gonna pull up all the stats and charts showing how dominant the Vikings’ defense has been this season. This group has been special for years and now we’re seeing the full effect following an offseason where the team extended contracts of defensive cornerstones Harrison Smith, Xavier Rhodes, Everson Griffen and Linval Joseph. The purple held Atlanta without a touchdown for the first time in like two full seasons. They’ve shut down premiere offenses and top players, allowing just 17 points a game with many of those points coming in garbage time. No wonder the team is all but a lock to win when they score 21 points or more (only one such loss in last three seasons). Depth at secondary is starting to solidify by the week which is great for the team considering the slots behind Smith and Rhodes have often been a point of exposure. Most importantly, this team passes the eye test. Opposing QBs have a visibly difficult time playing against this defense, something you want in January.
- Balanced offense: check. The Vikings have been great at establishing the run early in the game and when playing ahead. The dual attack of Jet McKinnon and Latavius has kept defenses on their heels due to their contradictory run styles. The Vikings have a shifty pass catching back in McKinnon and downhill power runner to use in the red zone in Murray. It should also be noted that they give the Vikings a blocking running back group they never had with Adrian Peterson. For the first time since 2009, the Vikings have a top three receiving core. Diggs and Thielen have been spectacular this season and would have even better stats if Case didn’t miss on some deep balls the past few games. Diggs is remarkable in getting YAC, especially on short to mid range throws. Thielen has done the same while also getting open downfied at least a couple times a game. The roles of players like Jay Wright, Megaquon and Mike Floyd, although minuscule, have been important. Floyd and Treadwell rarely get called upon but seem to haul in in when thrown to. Wright gets 1-2 catches per game that are always good for an important first down. Tight end Kyle Rudolph is displaying the best play of his career in my opinion. He’s actually started blocking and breaking tackles, not to mention establishing himself as a top red zone threat. Rudolph the Red Zone Reindeer is always getting open in the end zone and always coming down with the tough balls. In the past I have been one of his biggest critics. This season he’s done nothing but prove me wrong. Long story short: if a defense stack the box, make them pay downfield. If they anticipate the pass, feed Jet and the Tay Train.
- Good (enough) play at QB: check. Case Keenum hasn’t looked elite or like an MVP candidate (although he’s currently fifth in voting) but he hasn’t blown any games. Case has accomplished everything he’s been asked to help the team win. I’m not huge on Keenum like many of you “Space Cases”, he makes short throws look long because of his 10-yard drop back, his looks down field and his checkdowns are kind of fucked sometimes, he misses on blown coverages here and there and a lot of his longer throws have some wobble to them. I’ll admit that I’m a “Ted Head” and believe Bridgewater raises this team’s ceiling higher than does Case. I want Teddy to start next year and going forward. Personal bias aside, the Vikings have to go with Case Keenum the rest of the season. He takes care of the ball, he rarely gets sacked, he’s only thrown five picks to 16 TDs and he can use his legs to buy himself time to make plays. Case is like a watered down version of Teddy’s legs and Sam’s arm, which might be all the Vikings need right now. Would the team have a better chance to win with a Drew Brees or Tom Brady- like arm at the helm? Sure they would, but when the rest of the team is playing at this level, greatness at QB isn’t a necessity so much as a luxury. Just look at the 2015 Broncos or the 2000 Ravens. I think this Vikings group could have an identity similar to those teams but with more offensive prowess.
It really feels like our year, but we’ve all felt this before. I’ve seen some good Vikings teams in my lifetime but they way everything has shaken out this season, I think the writing may actually be on the wall. So why does this year feel different than ’09, ‘98 or the ‘70s?
- Minneapolis is hosting the Super Bowl. No team has ever played the Super Bowl on their home field. The Vikings have a brand new stadium, an elite team, and about four decades worth of demons to expunge. Doing it in Minneapolis would make it that much more special.
- The NFC is wide open. Due to the emergence of some new powers and the injury of a certain all-pro quarterback, there is no definite king of the NFC. Seattle and Green Bay, who have been perennial contenders for years have fallen back to the pack with 2016 non-playoff teams like the Saints (9-3), Eagles (10-2), Rams (9-3) and Vikings (10-2) all surging. Of the six teams currently holding playoff spots, only one went to the postseason last year (Seattle). This season could redefine the landscape of the NFC for years to come and the Vikings are doing everything they can to emerge as the top dog. If the Vikes win in Carolina on Sunday, they will improve to 3-0 vs current playoff teams.
- Contributions from unlikely heroes. If this team wins the Super Bowl, the story could be made into a movie. Sammy Sleeves (RIP) comes in after Teddy gets hurt. Then the season falls apart after the 5-0 start. Sam goes down and punch line Case Keenum steps in to help stop the bleeding, only to look like a franchise QB. The rookie star running back tears his ACL but gritty second-tier guys take over and actually improve the run game. An undrafted, white guy out of Detroit Lakes by way of Mankato State emerges as the team’s number one pass catcher while an overlooked fifth rounder excels in the number two spot. The once awful offensive line elevates its game to the towards of the league. A consistently great defense finally pairs with an offense that won’t hold them back and the long time tight end steps up his game immensely and proves old dogs can learn new tricks. The head coach makes a great case for coach of the year despite a freak sideline eye injury and a series of surgeries that have cost him much of his vision. The refs try to keep the other teams in the game, the league doesn’t respect the small market and it often feels like the whole world is against them. They don’t care; they’re dogs, and all they do is win. The Vikings have redefined what it means to overcome adversity in the NFL, they are fighters by every definition of the term. Not one player on the team cares about their own stats, they’re just here to win football games.
You can feel it radiating from the players, the fans, the media and stadium. The Vikings are earning national respect which is unheard of in these parts and solid teams actually have to change their game plan when the purple takes the field. All the stars are aligning, it’s undeniable. I’m not sure this is our year but it’s certainly starting to feel the part. So why the hesitation, why not just dive head first into the purple pool of destiny? Aside from being a lifelong Vikes fan, there are a few reasons that despite the excellent play, many Vikings fans still find themselves nervously waiting for the other shoe to drop.
- Kai Forbath has looked VERY shaky lately. I was hoping he would get a shot at a field goal late against Atlanta to build up some confidence. Forbath missed one and had one blocked vs Detroit (not counting the one at the end) and has missed more extra points than any other kicker in 2017 (has missed four FG and five XP in total). Points are so important in the playoffs and the Vikings can’t afford to close long drives empty handed or miss field goals late. Special teams may very well be the weak spot on this team. My worst fear is for Forbath to end up on a list with Gary Anderson and Blair Walsh.
- Case has been solid, great at times, but there are QBs this team will have to face with HOF credibility. I’m not sure I trust Case to win a shootout with Tom Brady, Big Ben, Drew Brees or Russell Wilson. You can’t win the Super Bowl throwing dump passes, out routes and trying to manage the game, at least not in 2017. If you’re a QB, you gotta go out thirsty for blood and drink it from the throat of your enemies. If the Vikes are gonna make a run, Case has to keep his foot on the gas. The worst thing that could happen in December and January is for Keenum to fall back down to Earth. Luckily for the Vikings, he’s playing in a contract year and using every game as a chance to earn that $20M deal next season.
- History is not on our side. You all know this, you all have lived this. The four super bowl losses in the ‘70s and/or the four NFC title losses since. Bullshit calls that lost us games, even warranted rule changes (field goal on first drive of OT, sideline push rule). Not to mention 12 men in the huddle, wide left, 41-donut, the Herschel Walker trade, the stickum game, you name it. This team has lost in every heartbreaking fashion imaginable.
At 10-2 with a chance to play the Super Bowl at home, this season can really only end one of two ways: complete elation or unfathomable heartbreak with a side of crippling depression. Having experienced the latter, I often find myself reluctant to put all my chips in the pot but screw it, I’m all in. ALL IN. I see the shortcomings but it doesn’t matter. Whether we win this thing or lose it, I’m all in. I’ve been wearing the same Vikings jacket for weeks, I haven’t cleaned my room or washed my purple shirts since the winning streak started and am even hesitant to come back to Minnesota in fear on jinxing the whole thing. The Vikings have occupied like 90% of my brain’s functioning capacity in my most important semester of college but fuck it. Either deliver me to the purple promised land or rip my heart out and kick me down the stairs of US Bank Stadium.
*I love the superstitious tendencies of Vikings fans, especially this time of year. Everyone is afraid they themselves will curse the team so we’re all changing our habits or sticking to the ones we think help them win. I guarantee all of you have at least one little game day ritual or superstition, even if it’s just a special spot on the couch (which I have). I’ve been trying to not brag about the Vikes and even be generally nicer to people in hopes or purple karma rewarding me in the end. It’s almost like the rapture is coming but only in Minnesota.*
If the Vikings beat Carolina on Sunday, I think they’re a lock to win out an finish 14-2, atop the NFC. I know this sounds dumb but I would rather get a loss out of the way now rather than stay hot and try to win 15 straight games. Regardless of what I think, the road to Minneapolis goes through Minneapolis. #SKOL
How the Vikings could eradicate the most demons with a first-round bye:
- Beat Seattle or Atlanta in divisional round, win by game winning FG or have other team lose with a miss. Deals with demons of ‘98 NFC title or ‘15 divisional.
- Beat Saints in NFC title thriller, murder Drew Brees throughout the game and get away with every call. The Saints cheated us out of the NFC title and a Super Bowl in 2009 in the Katrina Bowl (Who builds a city below sea level?). Getting them back would restore karmic balance to the universe or at least the NFL.
- Beat the Steelers or Chiefs in the Super Bowl, redeem Sir Francis Tarkenton and the Purple People Eaters of the 1970s.
If the Vikings manage to pull this off, the curse will be lifted, ensuring success and prosperity for years to come.
Looks nice doesn’t it? Packers aren’t even on the list.