We are a mere 24 hours away from what could easily be the most anticipated playoff game for Vikings fans since the 2009 NFC Championship Game.
Oddly enough, Minnesota’s opponent Sunday in the NFC Divisional round is none other than the New Orleans Saints – the franchise that “killed the head” of the Vikings in 2009 and went on to win the Super Bowl.
For fans, this game holds more than just the typical revenge game. This is a chance for Minnesota to end a dreadful playoff drought and erase a painful memory.
I have to say, I’m all for it.
I remember watching the game with some of my teammates at Minot State University who were from Minnesota in 2009. I was hyped. With Brett Favre at the helm and Adrian Peterson in the backfield, it really looked like they would coast to the Super Bowl. Needless to say, what occurred during that game has had a lasting effect on fans.
It was heartbreaking. I mean, the debacle in the 1998 NFC Championship game against the Atlanta Falcons was like getting your heart ripped out. 2009 felt like the doctors tried to frantically put it back in, but the operation went sideways. In the days and weeks that followed, I couldn’t help but wonder how in the world some of the hits that Favre took during that game could be deemed legal.
It was maddening.
Moreover, when the reports of “Bountygate” started to be released like a flood, it was disappointing as both a fan and one who has played the game from the defensive side of the football. There was really no other way to put it.
I know what you’re saying as your reading this… “That was the past. Why does it matter now?”
I’m glad you asked.
I’m not the superstitious type, but for fans, it’s about breaking the “curse”that was cast upon the team in 2009. A season that if not for Favre coming out of retirement and to Minnesota, might not have ever happened. It’s about righting a wrong. And, if we are being honest, with the Vikings having to beat the Saints to earn a date with either the Falcons or the Eagles for a trip to the Super Bowl on the line, there couldn’t be a better storyline.
Think about it, the two most painful losses in recent history could be the two opponents Minnesota has to face en route to a Super Bowl appearance – a Super Bowl appearance at U.S. Bank Stadium. That would be the first time in history that the host city for the Super Bowl had its own team playing for the Lombardi Trophy.
However, Zone Coverage’s Robert Rediell noted that it’s more than just revenge:
“Sunday’s game isn’t just about advancing to the NFC Championship game, it’s about rewriting history. Vikings fans have suffered through years of heartbreak and failure, and the Saints – along with the Falcons – are a huge piece to that puzzle. Minnesota is a new team and defeating New Orleans on Sunday is more about proving that than anything else.”
He’s not wrong that the Vikings are in fact a new team.
Despite not having a Hall of Famer at quarterback and running back, Minnesota may be an even better team than 2009. Offensively, they can stretch the field more due to receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs developing into one of the best tandems in the league. I mean, Thielen became the first Viking since Sidney Rice in 2009 to record 1,000 yards receiving. Now add the obvious that quarterback Case Keenum is having a simply unbelievable season after coming in for the injured Sam Bradford or that the offensive line is finally showing signs of being a piece or two away from being a fairly effective unit.
Defensively, the Vikings may have the best third down defense in NFL history according to Rediell’s colleague Arif Hasan.
— Arif Hasan (@ArifHasanNFL) January 12, 2018
Minnesota boasts a dominant defense with a roster that took years to construct. Aside from four players (Terrance Newman, Linval Joseph, Tom Johnson, Andrew Sendejo) who joined the team as free agents, this unit was built almost entirely through the draft. Not only that, it was built with guys who can be deemed “Zimmer guys.”
Every level of the defense boasts players with immense athletic traits and versatility — especially within the box. Everson Griffen (who is one of the few players who was on the unit prior to Zimmer’s hiring), Danielle Hunter, Anthony Barr; the list can go on and on. However, where the defense has really taken the next step was within the secondary. After many dismissed him as a bust, Trae Waynes have been playing the best football of his career in the latter half of the season. Additionally, there is really no argument about Xavier Rhodes being one of the best, if not the best cornerback in the league.
Don’t expect it to be a breeze by any means Sunday.
New Orleans boasts the NFL’s No.2 offense and is a relatively different team than when these two opponents matched up in Week 1 of the season. Future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees is still widely considered as one of the league’s top guys under center and has running backs Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram combining for a combo just as lethal as the Vikings’ duo of Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray. Defensively, Cam Jordan can certainly get after the passer from the end and rookie Marshon Lattimore is already showing signs of being an elite corner for years to come.
However, this wasn’t a column designed to outline the X’s and O’s of what to expect Sunday. This column was intended to remind those of what is at stake for Vikings fans. This is a chance for their team to right a wrong and as Rediell noted, rewrite history.
The only way for satisfaction is for the Vikings to “Bring It Home.”
- Josh Zimmer is the Lead NFL Draft analyst for NGSC Sports as well as serving as a contributor for NHL coverage.
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