USA TODAY Sports
Most folks in "the know" predicted the Vikings to hold down the bottom of the NFC North division for a third straight year, lucky to win five games in the 2012 season. Now, the team is playing for a playoff berth in the final game of the season and fans find themselves with the unexpected gift of optimism.
Ah, the final game of the 2012 season is just a couple days away and the Minnesota Vikings are playing their biggest divisional rival for a chance to go to the playoffs. Let the good times roll.
Now, as a lifelong Vikings fan and a stoic midwesterner, I completely get the pessimism. The Vikings have a rich tradition of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory and Vikings fans have seen it play out time and again--at least one major heartbreaker per decade. But if you aren't excited and feeling at least a little bit positive about Sunday's match-up at the Metrodome, there's something wrong with you.
Sure, we could pick apart all the things that aren't perfect with the Vikings, all the things they need to work on, all the things we wish were better, but when it's all said and done, a team that has one of the youngest, inexperienced rosters in the league, who has holes and question marks at a variety of positions, was primed to rebuild, was projected to win between four and five games the whole season, is somehow in charge of it's own destiny in December. They win, they're in the playoffs. Period.
This team is the football equivalent of racehorse Seabiscuit, or The Little Engine that Could from the children's story. There was no reason, looking at this team in August to believe that they would be on the brink of getting into the playoffs in December, but they are. There was no reason to believe they would be playing their best football late in the season after the way they fell apart during the middle of the season, but they are. There was no reason to think Christian Ponder could transform himself from chicken-minus-head to efficient game-manager, but he has. And there was no good reason to believe that Leslie Frazier could get the veterans and rookies alike to buy into the idea that they could be a winning team this season, but they have.
I'm not saying it's a foregone conclusion that the Vikings are going to beat the Packers on Sunday, but I feel like they could and that is a good feeling. Especially after expecting a crummy rebuilding season of lowered expectations and one eye kept on the 2013 NFL Draft.
And why not? Why not believe the Vikings could win? The Packers are a good football team, but the Vikings are playing some of their best football right now. During the team's last meeting in Lambeau, Adrian Peterson rushed for 210 yards. The Vikings defense kept Aaron Rodgers from putting up career numbers in that last game, that might not sound wholly encouraging, but previously Rodgers' games against the Vikings meant he was going to break another personal record. Also, the Vikings have a kick-ass Pro Bowl kicker in rookie Blair Walsh so, if the game is close and it comes down to Walsh's leg or Mason Crosby's, I think the advantage goes to the Vikings.
Part of the magic of the Vikings finding themselves still in the playoff hunt at this point in the season is the sheer unexpectedness of it. If you can't enjoy and unexpected boon like the Vikings figuring out how to play decent football and playing for the post-season just a year after going 3-13 and tying a franchise worst record, again, there is something wrong with you.
Sure, we could find ourselves disappointed come Sunday evening, but isn't riding the rush of possibility more fun? Not only is it fun, but the Vikings have been a lot better about defending their home turf this season, going 6-1 at the Dome which plays in their favor. If their fans come through for them and avoid the mercenary tendency to sell tickets to Packers fans, there will be a significant noise advantage for the Vikings. Be it ever so humble, the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome can be one of the noisiest venues in the NFL if the fans decide to make some noise.
This season the Vikings have shown that when they are prepared and play smart, disciplined football, they can hang with any team in the NFL. They beat the San Francisco 49ers when most of us thought a respectable loss would have been a positive sign of improvement. They have won their last three games, two of them on the road--a fete that seemed unlikely because their road record has been so dismal for so long. They are finding ways to win the games they need to win, and that's something good teams will do.
Perhaps the biggest boost the players will get will be from themselves and the fact that they too are drinking the purple Kool-Aid. There are a number of motivational speakers you could quote on the importance of belief in harnessing success, but I'll go with Yoda telling Luke Skywalker that his lack of belief was why he failed.
Well, Vikings, do or do not, there is no try.