With the big win that the Vikings had in Atlanta yesterday, they maintained their second seeding in the NFC and remained a game back from the 10-1 Philadelphia Eagles, who faced an up and down Seahawks team for the game of the night on Sunday. Some will say that the Eagles, who have a pretty weak strength of schedule (more on that later)), were exposed against the Seahawks in a 24-10 loss in Seattle (a game in which they were favored by six points). Now, it’s been said that Philly handed that game to the Seahawks but in the NFL things like that don’t matter, especially during December/January football. While some articles are saying that it’s a good thing that the Eagles didn’t really lose because they had “correctable mistakes”, the question they’re ignoring is do contenders start making those mistakes in December? Or rather, whether or not Philly has been making mistakes for awhile but have been playing bad teams so it didn’t really matter (see last week’s game against the Bears). Either way, because of the Eagles’ loss the Vikings are now the number one seed in the NFC and should the playoffs start tomorrow they’d have home-field through the Super Bowl, think about that.
Never in team history has their been a team that has played at home for the Super Bowl and there aren’t many places in the NFL that are less hospitable to road teams than Minneapolis. Now, we’re still getting acclimated to US Bank Stadium, and still learning how to properly do that new Icelandic chant and the Super Bowl isn’t a regular home game in terms of ticket sales, but there will be a much larger advantage in that game should the Vikings get there than there’d be if it was played on a neutral field (“neutral” being subjective as there’s always some advantage to a team depending on which teams are in and how close they are, geographically). Typically, it hasn’t mattered where the game has been played because a lot of the crowd is from around the country, as the Super Bowl is a destination and vacation all in one for those that can afford the insane tickets. So, Vikings fans are excited and starting to really believe in this team while also questioning why this author is talking about the Super Bowl in absolutes while not breaking his hand against a wooden table.
That’s because, as predicted in my pre-game “Why this Game is HUGE” article, the national media seems to finally be recognizing the Vikings as a legit contender this morning. I’m watching “Good Morning Football” on the NFL Network and they seem to admit something that I’ve been talking about for awhile and that’s that people have been not only sleeping on the Vikes this year, but basically ignoring them. The analogy used was that the Vikings are like the tax code, in that people realize that it exists but beyond that people don’t want to really look at it “In the eyes” (the tax code has eyes?).
While “Good Morning Football” was praising the F out of the Vikings they also started their Vikings segment by asking; “Are the Vikings a believable one seed?” That should really let you know how the national media has felt about this team and really the question has to be why? Is it because they’re too proud to admit they were wrong before the season or really after Bradford and Cook went down with season-ending injuries? Or is it because they’ve been wrong about Case Keenum all along?
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I was not only asleep on Keenum but basically dead in my sleep on Keenum. A glance at the title of our weekly Podcast will show you how I felt about Bradford going down, with titles like “Hello Darkness My Old Friend” and “The “You’ve Got to be Kidding Me” Edition”, I wasn’t very excited about the prospect of the Case Keenum I saw during the past few seasons and especially this preseason at training camp, taking over for Bradford (who had his best game as a pro against the New Orleans Saints). Good Morning Football talks about this by saying that people in the national media are saying that the Vikings are the one seed… For now. That Case Keenum is carrying this team and is arguably a top-five MVP candidate… For now. And while I’ve been open about my feelings for this team and the dread that comes with the Vikings succeeding (as there’s always the feeling of waiting for the other shoe to drop), I don’t feel that way because of Case Keenum.
Sure, everyone knows his story by now just as they know the story of Adam Thielen. While they had drastically different college experiences (with Thielen coming from a school that no one in the NFL has ever heard of and Keenum breaking basically every Division 1 passing record) they both entered the NFL as undrafted free agents who landed with teams near where they went to school thanks to UDFA tryouts and really because the teams needed some bodies for OTAs. No one is taking into account the fact that most QB’s take a certain amount of games to really hit their stride and that number of games happened this season for Keenum, after playing on objectively terrible teams. Everyone is hanging onto the IDEA of Keenum as opposed to simply looking at his performance this season, a performance that should really end the notion that he’s going to fall back to earth or that requires a disclaimer like the one I just covered. Lord knows I won’t talk about him like that anymore, the same going with Thielen, who has earned the right to not be talked about as a Cinderella story every time he’s brought up.
So. While this team has been getting credit on our site for awhile (I’ve only picked them to lose once and that was against the Packers earlier this year, after the Steelers game and after knowing Bradford was done (we picked the Steelers winner before hearing that Bradford was not going to play)), it is time to start talking about the playoffs and what we think of this team’s chances. Now, part of the negativity nationally and the fear locally is the 2016 season and how that both began and ended. People use that as an indictment on this team as if they fell apart as a unit instead of what really happened, which was that they fell apart after injuries forced the unit to fall apart. The Vikings have had some injuries, at key positions, this season but they’ve bounced back from that and have mostly stayed healthy thus far (*Breaks hand on that wood table*) and that’s been incredibly important for this offensive line and especially for the defense that plays as a unit perhaps better than any other in the NFL. That’s why they’re the number one seed and also the team that no one wants to face in the playoffs… Especially because they’ve faced them already and lost.
Keep in mind that the Vikings are the only team in the NFL that has a Top 5 offense and defense and when you have that, the proof is in the pudding. Should the Vikings beat the Carolina Panthers, in Carolina, they’ll have beaten three of the five playoffs teams (as of this week), mostly on the road. Including teams that are on the hunt they will have beaten Carolina, Atlanta, Detroit, Washington and New Orleans at their stadiums (or at home, as was the case with the Saints, thanks Juan Solo!) with a Green Bay team that is still in the hunt and that could have Aaron Rodgers back yet to be played at Lambeau come week 16 and a win at home against the Los Angeles Rams. The only teams that they haven’t faced would be the Philadelphia Eagles and Seattle Seahawks. Regardless of what you think about those teams, the Vikings have faced most of the other good NFC teams and have beat them, so there’s really no need to ask whether or not this is a “real one seed” anymore (as the host of Good Morning Football did, even if it was asked to raise the debate more than to genuinely imply that that’s the case).
That means that we really do need to start looking at the playoffs and what home-field could mean to this team. It’ll be really hard for any team to come into US Bank Stadium and win and considering that the Vikings would be able to play at home for the Super Bowl, perhaps that’s the extra advantage they need to overcome over 50 years of bad luck, missed kicks, bounty scandals and 12 men on the field after a freaking timeout (I’ll never forgive you for that, Childress). For now though, let’s just revel in the fact that our squad is the number one seed in the NFC, that the national media has to feast on crow like it’s some sort of post-apocalyptic Thanksgiving and that there’s nothing but great news in Vikingsland. While that typically means something bad is about to happen, this Vikings team has shown that it’s capable of overcoming adversity and so little by little I’m starting to lose that feeling and I think that a lot of you are too.