MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The Minnesota Vikings now mostly know the path it would take to make NFL history this year.
The Vikings are two victories away from becoming the first NFL franchise to play for a Super Bowl in their home stadium. And there's a decent chance they won't have to leave Minneapolis to get there.
But Vikings fans, and local sports fans in general, shouldn't allow themselves to look that far ahead. After all, athletes take it one week and one game at a time. Fans should do the same, because if you don't win, none of it matters.
If the Vikings are playing in Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium, it's also likely they'll have gotten revenge and exorcised demons on at least two teams that handed them devastating losses. This year is different and this team is different, but we can't help but think about what stands in the way of the Vikings in the Super Bowl.
We know this much: The New Orleans Saints are coming to Minneapolis this week for the NFC Divisional Playoffs. After Atlanta beat the L.A. Rams on Saturday, the Saints' win over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday assured that much.
We all know what happened the last time the Vikings played the Saints in playoff game. It was the 2010 NFC title game, and the Vikings were set to kick a game-winning field goal despite turnovers, Adrian Peterson fumbles in key situations and questionable penalty calls against the Vikings' defense.
The Vikings were driving late in regulation, and then somehow, some way, have 12 guys on the field out of a timeout. They get flagged, and it forces a Brett Favre throw instead of running the ball to set up Ryan Longwell for a game-winning kick. Favre throws an interception, the Saints win in overtime and the Vikings faithful are crushed. The Saints went onto win the Super Bowl.
If the Vikings beat the Saints this Sunday, it doesn't necessarily provide vindication. The teams and circumstances are different. The two teams already played in the season-opener, a game the Vikings dominated. A lot has changed for both teams since.
It does, however, get them one win from playing for a Super Bowl in their home stadium.
On the other side of the NFC Playoff bracket, the Atlanta Falcons face the Eagles in Philadelphia. With Carson Wentz out due to a knee injury, the Falcons are actually favored to win at No. 1 seed Philadelphia.
So what does it mean if the Falcons and Vikings win? It means the Vikings host the Falcons in the NFC title game for a trip to Super Bowl LII. It will remind all Vikings fans who were either there or watched it of the heartbreak in the 1999 NFC title game.
There are two demons from that game that Vikings' fans need to part ways with. The first: Gary Anderson and wide left. He hadn't missed a kick all year, and a field goal with less than two minutes left in regulation would've given the Vikings a 10-point lead. It likely would've sealed the game. Instead he missed, wide left.
The second: Dennis Green and the infamous "taking a knee." The Falcons rallied to tie the game 27-27 with 30 seconds left. The Vikings had the ball at their own 30-yard line with two timeouts, and one of the most explosive offenses in NFL history with Randall Cunningham and rookie Randy Moss. All they needed was enough yardage to give Anderson a second try. Instead, Green decided to kneel the ball and try to win it in overtime. It's considered by many among the worst coaching blunders in sports history.
Morten Andersen then daggered the Vikings' season and Super Bowl aspirations.
So why should we exorcise that demon? Because the Vikings already beat the Falcons this season, in Atlanta, 14-9 in a dominant defensive performance.
If the Falcons come to U.S. Bank Stadium and the Vikings' win, then you get history. Then the AFC champion has to play a true road game in the biggest game in sports.
The path is there to get revenge on previous heartbreaking losses, yet the circumstances and the rosters couldn't be more different for the teams involved. It is, though, truly unique territory filled with story lines. The Vikings could conceivably play the rest of their season at U.S. Bank Stadium, and be playing for the Vince Lombardi Trophy on Feb. 4.
Yet despite all the differences and as good as the Vikings have been this year, some fans are still waiting for the inevitable other shoe to drop and the heartbreak that comes with it. That's all Minnesota sports fans know.
But this year can and should be different. Why? The Vikings have one of the top defenses in the NFL, and they've consistently scored points and moved the ball on offense most of the season. As of Sunday, the analytics web site 538 gives the Vikings a 38 percent chance to get to the Super Bowl and an 18 percent chance to win it.
The only team with better odds? The New England Patriots.
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