"Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!"
-Senator John Blutarsky
So, now that we know that the National Football League has officially chosen to bend the Minnesota Vikings over the proverbial desk, what does this mean for the rest of Minnesota's season? A lot of folks immediately assume that the Vikings' season is over now that the best defensive tackle tandem in the NFL will be on the shelf for the final four games of the 2008 regular season. I, at one point, was among those people.
No longer. Here's why.
I'm of the mindset that 9-7 is going to be the record of the NFC North champion in 2008. In order to get there without the Williams Wall, the Vikings will have to go 2-2 over the last four. In that scenario, the Bears would have to go 3-1 to reach a tiebreaker (and that loss couldn't come against Green Bay), and Green Bay would have to go 4-0 just to get to a tiebreaker situation (the Packers aren't going 4-0 to finish the season).
Keep this axiom in mind as well. . .the loss of Pat and Kevin Williams is a blow to Minnesota's defense. It does not, by proxy, magically make Chicago's defense better or Green Bay's defense better. Right now, the Bears are 19th in the NFL in points allowed (22.3/game), 29th against the pass, and 8th against the run. The Packers are 22nd in the league in points allowed (24.6/game), 5th against the pass (but you can ask Drew Brees exactly what that means. . .they were #1 as recently as two weeks ago), and 27th against the run. Minnesota losing Pat and Kevin Williams does nothing to improve either of those two teams. They'll still be trotting the same average (at best) defenses out there over the last four weeks of this season as they've trotted out there for the first thirteen.
Now, in order for us to get to nine victories and a likely NFC North title, I said we'd have to split our last 4. The best chance for us to do that might be over the course of the next two games.
The Vikings start off this Sunday with the 0-12 Detroit Lions and, with all due respect to our friends from Pride of Detroit, if the Vikings don't beat the Lions this Sunday even without Pat and Kevin Williams, they don't deserve a playoff spot anyway. The Lions, much like when they visited the Metrodome way back in October, are among the NFL's worst teams in every statistical category, they've played approximately 83 different guys at quarterback this season, and their rushing offense is #30 in the NFL with only having seen Pat and Kevin Williams one time this year. Surprisingly, the Lions are one of only two teams this season to go over 100 rushing yards as a team against the Beloved Purple. If their Thanksgiving game against Tennessee was any indication, their defense has pretty much packed it in for the season, and it's up to AP, Chester Taylor, Gus Frerotte and the boys to take advantage. Minnesota should. . .repeat, should. . .win this one to get themselves to 8-5 in the standings.
The next week is the Vikings' final road game of the year, a trip to Arizona to take on the Cardinals. For all the hype that the Cardinals got early on in the season, they currently sit with the same 7-5 record as your Minnesota Vikings currently have. Remember how I said that the Lions were the #30 rush offense in the league in 2008? Well, that position puts them two spots ahead of the Arizona Cardinals rushing offense. . .and the Cards haven't seen Pat and Kevin Williams (or anyone else as good as they are) all season long. They've benefited enormously from playing in what's probably the worst all-around division in football (and if they're not THE worst, the only two divisions in the conversation are the NFC West and the AFC West). The Cardinals are also, thus far, undefeated at University of Phoenix Stadium.
So why am I optimistic that the Vikings can win this football game? Because for as well as he played over the season's first 12 games, Cardinals' QB Kurt Warner has been relatively awful in his last two. Yes, he put up 351 yards against the New York Football Giants. . .he also had to put the ball in the air 52 times to get that much. He also threw an INT in that one and fumbled twice (losing one). Yes, he threw 3 TD passes against the Eagles on Thanksgiving night. He also threw 3 INTs and had his lowest completion percentage of the season. The Cards' defense has also shown to be prone to lapses, as shown by their giving up 48 points to an Eagles' team thought to be in disarray and 56 to the New York Jets earlier this season.
I'm not terribly optimistic about our chances against the Falcons. . .even though Atlanta's rush defense hasn't been particularly good this year. . .because Michael Turner absolutely scares the crap out of me at this point. And I can't even begin to project the Giants' game to close the season because I don't know if the Giants will be playing for anything at that point. . .my guess is that they won't be. Even if they aren't playing for anything, though, who knows if Tom Coughlin will rest anybody anyway? Remember last year's Giants finale against New England? The G-Men played all their starters and gave the undefeated Patriots a hell of a football game.
If Minnesota can somehow, some way, find the ability to pull out victories in their next two ball games, they should find themselves in the post-season. Can it happen? Will it happen? I certainly hope so.