With an extra bye week of rest, the Case Keenum led Vikings meet a dangerous New Orleans Saints team this Sunday, January 14. Expectations are high, and with the top defense in the league, a resurging offense and home field advantage, Viking fans have a lot to be confident in. With Minnesota playing host to the Super Bowl on February 4 this year, it hasn’t been hard for Vikings’ fans to imagine a scenario where the Vikings not only host the game, but also play in it.
Challenging Year for the Minnesota Vikings
A lot has transpired this year for a team entering the playoffs with a 13 wins and 3 losses season. For starters, the Vikes lost their starting QB Sam Bradford to injury after the first regular season game. Then, rookie star running back Dalvin Cook – who in a very short time looked like everything scouts thought he would be – was lost for the season with a torn ACL.
With the quarterback position such a vital role in today’s NFL, things didn’t look so rosy for the Vikes. This is the same franchise that lost their previous starting QB Teddy Bridgewater to a devastating leg injury the season before. In a year of injuries in the NFL, depth has been more important than ever. Minnesota’s G.M. Rick Spielman has done a phenomenal job in ensuring the Vikes were ready with capable back-ups. When injuries struck, the next man up has proven to be more than deserving. Case Keenum stepped into Bradford’s role, and Latavius Murray, with an assist from Jerick McKinnon, have contributed valuably to the running game in Cook’s absence.
The defense, head coach Mike Zimmer’s specialty, has been strong for some time. For the 2016 season, they were ranked only behind the Houston Texans and the Arizona Cardinals on NFL.com. The Vikings brought back their core starters in tact from a solid season in 2016. And, they’ve performed as expected. With the fewest points allowed per game during the regular season, the Vikes field the best defensive unit in the league.
The biggest surprise in 2017 for the team: the Minnesota Vikings’ offense.
A Rebuilt Offensive Line
In 2016, the Vikes offensive line fell far short of expectations. An offseason rebuilding effort has paid huge dividends. Selecting a center early in the NFL draft and bringing in tackles Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers from free agency, you don’t hear as much about the o-line any more – and that’s nearly always a good thing. Pass protection has been excellent and the Vikings running game has proven to be very effective. Clearly, the team’s success is greatly supported by the strength of the rebuilt offensive line.
Case Keenum – Unexpected QB’s Pro Bowl Season
Minnesota Vikings’ quarterback Case Keenum and wide receiver Adam Thielen have played instrumental roles in their team’s elevation this season. These two offensive starts have played pivotal roles in guiding Minnesota to the conference championship. The duo has delivered some stunning performances at both at-home and other games. How have these two underdogs led Minnesota to its NFC Championship?
Case Keenum’s NFL History
As an undrafted free agent with the Texans between 2012 and 2014, Case Keenum had 1760 yards and 9 touchdowns in his 8 games played. Before returning to the Texans again, he had a short stint with the St. Louis Rams. Before being signed-up as a free agent with the Minnesota Vikings in 2017, he was again with the Rams in 2015.
Keenum made his mark in college football when he became the most accomplished quarterback in the history of NCAA. Despite his accomplishments, he was ignored for all kinds of reasons. When the Vikings signed him up, he was meant to be a backup for Sam Bradford. He got his break early in the season, and has performed at a very high level.
Earlier in the year against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Keesum had a passing rating of 142.1, 369 yards passing and three passing TDs leading the Vikes to a 34-17 victory. His play, particularly his ability to extend plays with his scrambling, and elusiveness have drawn comparisons to Vikings’ legend, Fran Tarkenton.
In the early games of the 2017 season, many analysts pegged Keenum as just a game manager – code for “he can be good, but not great.” These same analysts may be reassessing their read on Keenum. His confident play continues to improve, and the Vikings offense doesn’t just play weak sister to the strong defense – they can be a force in their own right.
Adam Thielen: Undrafted Star
In 2013, Thielen attended rookie camp where unsigned free agents can showcase their skills. He was signed to the Vikings practice squad, before earning a spot on the 53 man roster in 2014. A star player on specialty teams in 2015, the following year, 2016, was his breakout season as a receiver. In 2016, he had nearly 1,000 yards in receiving and led the team in this category. The one-time practice player, turned specialty teams player was now a star. (Check Thielen on Twitter.)
In 2017, Thielen has continued to blossom as a player. He finished the season with 91 receptions and 1,267 yards. His play earned him his first Pro Bowl selection, and he was also named a 2nd Team All-Pro member. With Stefon Diggs playing at a high level in the other receiver role and Kyle Rudolph’s presence and good hands, the Vikings have a very capable receiving corps.
Thielen’s sure hands and uncanny ability to create space have quietly made him one of the best receivers in all of the league. A Detroit Lakes, Minnesota native, one has to think many of his hometown fans will be placing calls if the Vikings make the Super Bowl.
Vikings Eye Super Bowl
With Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, the Vikings know that they are just two wins away from playing in the ultimate home game.
Super Bowl talk in Minnesota has some history. Losses at Super Bowls IV, VIII, IX and XI, have given the Vikings that reputation that they can’t win the big one. And, if you’ve been to the Mall of America more than twice in a year, you know that it’s not just the Super Bowl losses that have been painful. Followers of the team have also suffered through some painful losses in big games leading to the Super Bowl.
You don’t bleed purple if you’re not aware of:
- Staubach’s pass to Drew Pearson in the Hail Mary 1975 game where Mr. Pearson “created some space” while the ball was in the air. In what some have called the darkest afternoon in Vikings history, the Cowboys win is still a topic of conversation amongst the Purple faithful.
- In the 1998 NFC Championship game, with the Vikings facing third and three on their 27 yard line and the score knotted up at 27-27 with the Falcons, Vikes’ QB Randall Cunningham took a knee. This ran out the clock and forced overtime. Atlanta won 30-27 in OT.
- New Orleans treatment of Vikes’ QB Brett Favre in the 2009 NFC Championship Game led many to believe that a bounty was out on him. There were two personal fouls against the Saints on Favre, and another that should’ve been called per the NFL. The battering Favre absorbed helped the Saints win a close 31-28 game.
Could this be the Year?
The Super Bowl losses hurt, no doubt, and the playoff losses maybe even more so. But, just being able to play in the last meaningful game of the season means a lot. With some understandable ups and downs, the Vikings have showcased some great teams through the years.
While the 2017-18 team may not be their best ever, it has to be right at the top. Strong coaching, a spectacular defense, and an offense – led by Keenum and Thielen – on the rise, may give the Vikings their best chance to play for another Super Bowl. They just seem like a team that never gives up – and those are the toughest teams to beat.
Saints vs. Vikings Playoff Pick
With two weeks to prepare, coach Mike Zimmer’s defensive scheme keeps the Saints’ explosive attack in check. Look for Keenum and Thielen to connect for two touchdowns as the Vikes win a close one: 24 – 20.
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