MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – It's been a hot topic as the Minnesota Vikings and their fans this week as the team has a first-round bye in the NFC Playoffs.
Are the Vikings capable of winning the Super Bowl? Can fans allow themselves to go all-in emotionally on this team? Some still fear the inevitable heartbreak that always seems to come with the Vikings, and it always happens when fans allow themselves to let their guard down and truly believe a championship is possible.
According to one analytics web site, we should buy into this Vikings team. After all, this Vikings squad feels different than the 1998 and 2009 squads that reached the NFC Championship Game.
The web site 538 has released its NFL Playoff predictions, and they give the Vikings a 33 percent chance to make the Super Bowl. On top of that, they give the Vikings a 19 percent chance to win the Super Bowl. They also give Minnesota a 67 percent chance to reach the NFC title game.
The Vikings are only one victory away from playing for a trip to the Super Bowl.
The web site gives the New England Patriots the best chance to win the Super Bowl at 31 percent. They give the Philadelphia Eagles a 15 percent chance and the Pittsburgh Steelers a 14 percent chance.
Here are four reasons fans should go all-in on the Vikings if they haven't already.
The Vikings feature one of the best defenses in the NFL. They allow just more than 12 points per game in front of their home fans at U.S. Bank Stadium, and just eight touchdowns on their home field. For the season, the Vikings lead the NFL in yards per game allowed at just more than 275. They're also a well-rested unit, with the Vikings' offense being able to sustain drives and move the ball downfield.
Eric Kendricks leads the Vikings with 113 tackles, which is seventh in the NFC. Everson Griffen is third in the NFC and leads NFC Playoff teams with 13 sacks. The Vikings' have the second-best rushing defense in the NFL, allowing 83.6 yards per game.
The Vikings will look to ride one of the best defenses in the NFL in the playoffs. It's a far different scenario than in 1998 or 2009, when they did their best to outscore teams.
Keenum States His Case
Sure, Sam Bradford is back at practice this week and could be the back-up quarterback for the NFC Playoffs. But make no mistake about it, Case Keenum will play as long he doesn't get hurt, and he should. He threw two interceptions at Washington in Week 10. He's thrown a total of two, both at Carolina, in the seven weeks since. In that same span, he's thrown 11 touchdown passes. He's got 22 touchdowns and just seven interceptions for the season.
Let's not forget that he entered the season as the probable third-string quarterback. Other teams on their back-up quarterbacks either didn't make the playoffs, or aren't expected to advance. Yes, Keenum isn't Brett Favre, isn't Aaron Rodgers and isn't Tom Brady. But he doesn't have to be in this offense, which is balanced enough that not one player has to make all the plays. Paired with the Vikings' defense, they're good enough to win a championship.
Vastly Improved Offensive Line
The Vikings offensive line was largely a disaster last year. They were the worst rushing offense in the NFL, and Sam Bradford spent most of the season under heavy pressure from defenses. What a difference a year makes. With major improvement up front, the Vikings are ranked No. 7 in rushing in the NFL with more than 122 yards per game. And that's without Dalvin Cook, lost early in the season with a torn ACL.
Center Pat Elflein has missed two games this season with a shoulder injury, but is expected to return for the playoffs. The group of Elflein, Mike Remmers, Riely Reiff, Jeremiah Sirles and even Rashod Hill has formed a chemistry this season. When healthy, fullback C.J. Ham and tight end David Morgan have played critical roles blocking in the run game.
The Vikings rank No. 11 in total offense in the NFL, and are also No. 11 in passing. That's a great formula to win a championship, if it can stay consistent.
No Place Like Home
There is a very real chance if the Vikings keep winning, they won't have to travel very far. We already know with a first-round bye, they'll host an NFC Divisional Playoff game on Sunday, Jan. 14. By that time, they'll also know what's ahead if they advance to the NFC title game. If Philadelphia loses its playoff game, the Vikings would host the NFC title game if they win.
If the Falcons beat the Rams, the Carolina/New Orleans winner comes to U.S. Bank Stadium on Jan. 14. If the Rams win, it's rematch with Jared Goff and the Rams defense. And with Minneapolis hosting Super Bowl LII, there's plenty of motivation to play in front of your home crowd as long as you can. The Vikings can ride the energy of their fans, and they can keep practice schedules consistent with no travel plans.
It appears, at least for now, to be all coming together. So instead of waiting for something catastrophic to happen, enjoy the season and go all-in.
All that said, 538 did predict the Cleveland Indians to win the World Series last year and for Hillary Clinton to win the Presidential Election over Donald Trump. So take that for what it's worth...
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