Minnesota Vikings: The Quiet Contenders In The NFC
The ugly 26-9 loss in Week 2 of the 2017 NFL season might’ve thrown us all off the scent a bit. Then, of course, there was the knee injury that quarterback Sam Bradford sustained in Week 1 of the season, and then re-aggravated in Week 5, which has sidelined him indefinitely. That’s not even mentioning the season-ending torn ACL injury sustained by promising rookie running back Dalvin Cook in Week 4.
And yet, in the face of all that adversity, and despite being overlooked by the greatness of Aaron Rodgers and the fast start by the Detroit Lions, the Minnesota Vikings are tied for the second-best winning percentage in the NFL, and if the postseason started today, they would have a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs.
After a disappointing loss to the Lions on the first day of October, the Vikings have won four straight games, giving them a 6-2 record as they head into the bye week. There was a moment when the Vikings looked like they were going to be victims of a horrid upset, when they were actually trailing the Cleveland Browns in the third quarter of their game in London. But they put their foot on the proverbial gas pedal late in the third quarter, scoring 17 unanswered points to end the game. That gave the Vikings their fourth straight win They’ve won three of those four games by more than seven points, and held all four opponents to 17 points or less in each game.
As you’d expect from a team led by head coach Mike Zimmer, the Vikings are ranked 7th in the NFL in fewest passing yards allowed per game, and 5th in the NFL in fewest rushing yards allowed per game. Defensive end Everson Griffen is tied for second in the NFL for most sacks this season with 10; he’s one of only two players in the league to record a sack in every game he’s played in this year. In the secondary, cornerback Xavier Rhodes and safety Harrison Smith are playing at their usual Pro Bowl levels; both guys have been among the very best at their position all year long.
But as good as the defense has been this year, it’s the offense that’s been the most pleasant surprise this season, to date. How many teams can play this well when they lose their starting quarterback and running back for a majority of the season? Yet backup quarterback Case Keenum has come in and played tremendously, to the point where the team is in no hurry to reintegrate incumbent quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who is close to being cleared for play after sustaining a gruesome knee injury before the 2016 season. And in place of Cook, running back Jerrick McKinnon has played brilliantly; in three of the last four games, McKinnon has accumulated 99 or more combined yards, and found the endzone at least once.
Here’s the interesting part: Minnesota doesn’t have any truly “elite” opponent left on their remaining schedule for 2017. Meaning if they keep taking care of business, they could remain right near the top of the conference for the remainder of the year.