We can’t say this often, but life is good for Minnesota sports fans. It’s late in December, the Wolves won in OT last night (at the expense of Jeff Teague’s knee), the Wild are trending upwards, having won 4-2 against Dallas after the holiday hiatus and the Vikings are all but a lock to earn a first round bye. If all three teams qualify for the playoffs, then every Minnesota team will have made the playoffs this year (if you count the Twins’ wildcard game appearance). Seriously, when was the last time that happened?
On Sunday the Vikings will conclude their 2017 regular season with a home game against the 5-10 Chicago Bears. Bovada sportsbook currently has the Vikings favored by 11 points. Although the Bears have had a pretty bad season (courtesy of John Fox), this game cannot be overlooked. Keep in mind these Bears swept the AFC North this year, which includes two playoff bound teams in the Steelers and Ravens. The Vikings historically struggle against these Bears, having only swept them once this decade. A 13-3 finish would be the second best regular season (by win count) in franchise history, behind only the 15-1 1998 season.
The most important reason this game can’t be overlooked is because of the parallels that can be drawn between now and 2009. In ‘09, the Vikings started 10-2 just as they did this year. It seemed they we’re a lock to win the NFC. However with four games to play, the Vikings lost to the Panthers and then in the season finale to the Bears, finishing 12-4 while the Saints wound up 13-3. We all know how that ended.
This season is different because in my opinion, the number two seed is just as good as the one seed. Yes the Eagles are 13-2 and have sealed the one seed with two consecutive victories over the lowly Giants and Raiders. Those teams have a combined record of 8-24 and the Eagles escaped each game narrowly. I know they will have home field in the divisional round but when they have to play NO/ATL/LA/SEA I know where my money is at. Although the standings have the Eagles on top, it’s really a wide open NFC where the weakest team in contention has the one seed; a truly unique situation.
From what I’ve seen since Carson Wentz tore his ACL, the Eagles will serve as a second round bye for whoever comes out of the wildcard round. Barring a first round exit for the Vikes, which I’m not ruling out, the road to Minneapolis will have to go through Minneapolis. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll be rooting for Philly; as a Vikings fan I would rather play Philly in Philly for the NFC title than I would any other team in Minneapolis.
This season is also different because we have the best coach in town since Bud Grant. Zimm isn’t gonna let these guys lay off. He stressed the importance of this weekend, calling the game a two-for-one because it could clinch a first round bye. Just imagine; all we have to do is beat the Bears and US Bank Stadium will host its first playoff game in the divisional round the same year it hosts the Super Bowl! This Vikings team has a chance to do something truly special. They also have a chance to become the only team to lose the Super Bowl five times. That wouldn’t be all that bad had they had won just one but that’s where history has placed us.
The Vikings appear to be the strongest team in the NFC but in a conference with five ten-win teams, reaching the Super Bowl will be no easy task. Each NFC foe poses threats to the Purple that can’t be overlooked. The Rams have that offense, the Panthers have Cam and a good defense, the Saints have a two-headed rushing monster and the Falcons have Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman. If the Vikings are to reach the promised land, they’re gonna have to survive the gauntlet and come out clean on the other side.
That being said, here are some of my concerns for the postseason.
Redzone productivity has trailed off since the Redskins game. Poor productivity inside the 20 has cost the Vikings points time and time against down the stretch. In the last couple games we have settled for field goals in situations that could have easily yielded touchdowns. It cost us the Carolina game and it cost us points against Green Bay. I don’t know if it’s Case, the line or the the running backs but if we leave points on the board in the playoffs, it will cost us dearly.
Kai Forbath hasn’t missed a kick in a few games but I still get nervous every time he trots out there. He’s shaky from 50+ which could cost us dearly later on and that bank shot he made from 52 against Cincy may as well have been a miss.
Case Keenum has never played in a playoff game or even a major bowl game. He’s looked good this season, even great at times but has no experience in big spots. I pray that he plays as well with the season on the line as well as he did with his job on the line. His accuracy (or lack thereof) on his deep balls also scares me somewhat. After the Bears, there will be no more easy games. Plus, we’ll without a doubt face a quarterback with big game credibility. Possible foes include Cam Newton (NFC champion, NCAA champion), Matt Ryan (NFC champion), Russell Wilson (Super Bowl and 2x NFC champion) and Drew Brees (Super Bowl champion). Then you have Nick Foles who kinda sucks and Jared Goff who’s young and somewhat unproven. Quarterback is the most important position in sports and I think at least four other NFC teams have the edge over us. If we do make it through the NFC, we’re gonna have to face Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger or even my dark horse Joe Flacco, who have all won Super Bowls.
The offensive line took another hit, losing Nick Easton again, this time for the season. Pat Elflein is still banged up and Riley Reiff has missed a few games. I’m not gonna write a whole paragraph about the importance of a good offensive line in the postseason. Let’s just hope they play like they have been thus far.
If we can tidy it up in those four categories we should have a very good chance to win the NFC, especially considering we will in all likelihood be playing these games at home.
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