After a Wild Card weekend that was extremely entertaining (despite some of the concerns from fans/followers of the league before the weekend that thought that some of the matchups were “boring), some Vikings fans’ fears appear to be aligning in epic fashion. In the NFC, both the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints won this weekend, meaning that the two teams that still represent failure, sadness and palpable hatred in the minds (and hearts) of Minnesota fans are either playing the Vikings or very well could play the Vikings in the coming weeks. The Vikings face the Saints next Sunday at 3:40 p.m. and the Falcons will travel to Philadelphia to play a VERY beatable Eagles team in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. So, if you’re paying attention, that means the Vikes will have to best the ghosts from both 2009 and 1998 to meet the promised land and play in their first Super Bowl since the 70’s at home. While that may terrify some of the Vikings fateful, it actually does feel almost too perfect from a different (and heavily medicated) point of view.
I’m 33 years old and in my lifetime the Vikings have been to four separate NFC Championships, three of which I remember (with the 80’s Vikings being before my era of comprehension). Of those three, two are particularly painful; in the 1998 game against the Falcons and the 2009 game against the Saints. What’s obvious from the above, also, is that I’ve never witnessed the Vikings IN the Super Bowl, whether they’ve been heavily favored or whether they’ve played at home or on the road, whether they’ve played terribly (41-0) or massively outplayed the other team (2009). However, the reason I’m a lot less nervous than I’d typically be (I mean, look at the URL of this website) is also the reason that I think that this set-up is the perfect way for this franchise to finally overcome the curse that many Vikings fans believe has been a part of this team since 1961 and that reason is that this team just feels different from those other teams because it has such a dominant defense and amazing coaching staff. This team just dominates almost every aspect of the game and makes a lot of the games actually quite boring because they slow things down and control the clock, field position and eventually the final score.
Playing at home, with this defense, really should mean that the Vikings should have a huge advantage, even if I’ve seen some national pundits call the game a “coin-flip”. The Falcons are actually favored over the #1 Seed Eagles, in Philadelphia, which may be some sort of record but makes a lot of sense considering the Carson Wentz injury. One could argue that the Falcons beating the Eagles would be better for the Vikings, as even though it’d bring a super hot (and defending NFC champ) Falcons team to US Bank Stadium, it’d be better than playing in Philadelphia in the cold (see Case Keenum’s play in Green Bay a few weeks back). The Vikings first have to get through the New Orleans Saints, though, a team that the fellas on the purpleJOURNAL Podcast have said for most of the second half of the season they want to avoid in the playoffs. The Vikings did face the Saints earlier this season, but they may have changed more from Week 1 to now than any other team in the league (that didn’t suffer a major injury).
The Week 1 Saints featured Adrian Peterson at running back and had a ton of new faces basically learning on the fly. Those new faces (whether they’re starters or rookies) are still (mostly) there, but they’ve learned the Saints’ defensive scheme and are playing a lot better than they were when Sam Bradford shredded them for around 350 yards and 3 touchdowns. It was that defense that came up big on the final drive for Carolina and that shredded Matt “Speedbump McGee” Kalil to hassle the running QB that is Cam Newton all day. That made me feel like the Vikings are definitely going to need Case Keenum at his full potential on Sunday, especially when it comes to his efficiency outside of the pocket (with Cameron Jordan most likely chasing him around all day). Luckily, he’s had a full season of practice doing just that, and it shouldn’t really be anything other than what he’s used to.
So, I totally understand the fear that everyone is feeling. It would be really, really awful to lose to the Saints in the playoffs during a “charmed” year, yet again. However, this Vikings team has really helped me calm down this season by slowing games down and dictating the flow of the game, as well. This defense is definitely the best I’ve seen in my lifetime and they’ve gotten better and better as the season has gone on. So, while Drew Brees is one of the best quarterbacks of all-time, he’s really not had to be “Drew Brees” this year as the team has focused on their run game (in Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram (Jr.)). The Vikes will force him to be that guy, though, by shutting down that run game (with help from the fans in the stands) and really I don’t foresee him being able to overcome this Vikings secondary. On the offensive side of the ball, I also think that Shurmur and company have been pretty conservative as of late, as the Vikings faced some really bad teams to round out the season and didn’t want to show all of their cards until the playoffs. That will change Sunday and I think that Case Keenum will show the league that they shouldn’t have slept on him, again. The Bye Week will have helped some of the banged up guys on offense get back on the field, which should really actually help (despite a lot of people thinking that the Bye might kill the momentum the Vikes had coming into the playoffs).
So… While it’s definitely hard to exercise the demons that come from watching your favorite team fail time after time, it’s been said on this site and others all season that this Vikings team feels different from the ones we’re used to rooting for in the NFC Championship every half a decade or so. It’s that difference that should be able to show us how it feels to actually celebrate in January/early February. Beating the Saints and Falcons on their way to a Super Bowl at home?!? Sounds like the ending of a great (or really bad?) movie, and we’ve all got front row tickets. Let’s try to enjoy it.