The Vikings’ identity throughout this entire season has been centered around coming in clutch late in the game, making plays when needed, and winning close games. After the past few games and especially throughout the Patriots game, I felt that I was finally comfortable with that identity — then they nearly lost to the Jets. The Jets are certainly no longer the pushovers they used to be, but that offense is still not up to par, even with Mike White now running it in place of Zach Wilson. After a dominant first half, I thought that we were finally going to get our dominant blowout win, but then in traditional Vikings fashion, they nearly blew the game.
Both the Bills and Cowboys games can be attributed to flukes — neither is a sustainable way to win or lose. What cannot be attributed to fluke showings is the pattern of heart pounding barely-wins each and every week. I’ve been beating the drum all season that this isn’t a cause for concern; Minnesota will be fine, the tight games build the team’s resilience. I don’t intend to renounce that point of view; this is still a high quality team with a divisional round exit as its floor and a Super Bowl win as its ceiling. I have, however, realized one key point — the Vikings can lose to anyone. Playing down to competition such as early season Detroit and Chicago, Washington and the Jets, and especially the Saints is not something that teams such as Buffalo (see game vs Steelers), Chiefs (game @ 49ers), Eagles or Cowboys (both last week) do.
For this reason and this reason only, the true odds of a Vikings Super Bowl run are lower than most 10-2 teams in NFL history. It hurts to admit, but a team that can only scrape by the Saints, Lions and Bears needs a dominant showing to place themselves squarely in the conversation. Minnesota has limited opportunities remaining to acquire that win, but with one of the easiest remaining schedules in the league, it’s entirely possible. It almost certainly has to come within the next 3 games, as the Vikings always play Chicago and Green Bay very closely.
First we have the Lions, who have looked damn good since beginning the year 1-6. Detroit could potentially be the first ever team to start so poorly and come back to snatch a playoff spot, but it won’t be easy. Detroit needs to win against either the Vikings or Jets to even have a chance at the 7th seed; 8-9 won’t cut it even in such a weak year in the NFC. Winners of 2 of their last 3 games — both blowouts, first against the Giants and then the Jaguars — with a very close and competitive loss to the Bills sandwiched between those blowouts, the Lions are no longer a team to ignore. In fact, they have garnered so much respect following their recent performances that they are actually favored by almost a field goal over the Vikings at the time of writing. Those odds seemed unthinkable a mere few weeks ago, yet are our current reality. Thoroughly dismantling the favored Lions would go a long way towards Minnesota garnering that respect instead.
In Week 15 comes the Colts. Dallas just dropped 54 on this team and they don’t scare anyone, although it should be noted they were quite close to upsetting the Eagles just two weeks ago. I feel that this game is destined to end in a one score victory considering that aside from Dallas and New England the Colts have played most teams fairly close. A significant portion of the players on the Colts’ roster will be playing for their jobs either in Indianapolis or elsewhere next season; as a result, this team will play hard both for themselves and interim head coach Jeff Saturday. Indianapolis is bad, but I would be pretty surprised if Minnesota blew them out of the stadium.
In likely the last chance for a blowout victory this season, the New York Giants come to town on Christmas Eve. I’ve been yelling this into the void since at least Week 3: The Giants are bad. Their OL is bad. Their QB is worse. Their WRs are beyond awful; most should not be on an NFL roster, much less starting. Their saving grace is head coach Brian Daboll and a strong defensive line that brings the rest of the defense up along with it. However, that wasn’t enough to save this incredibly overrated team against the Detroit Lions and it certainly won’t be enough against the Vikings in Minnesota. This game could very well get out of hand, but New York has tended to play teams close primarily due to extremely impressive coaching.
The Vikings need their prove-it win after the heart attack-inducing Jets game. It almost certainly has to come within the next 3 games — the Detroit Lions, Indianapolis Colts, and New York Giants are up next. If I were a betting man, I’d run away with Vikings +2.5 against the Lions. It is, in my opinion, the best opportunity for a blowout win for the rest of the season, and I think the team knows it too. As Jalen Reagor told the media, the Vikings are winning this game. The only question is by how much. If they stick to Minnesota tradition and only win by single digits, they will then play two straight home games first against the Colts and then the Giants. If they want the blowout win, they’ll need to take it then. SKOL!