It’s ridiculous to say that after one game, the Minnesota Vikings are on the brink of a crisis. It’s even kind of goofy to say that after two games.
Only it’s not ridiculous.
As Eric pointed out in his weekly preview, the Vikings have only won one time in Chicago since the 2001 season, the memorable 2007 game when Adrian Peterson went HAM. Of course, so did Devin Hester for the Bears. The Vikings needed every bit of Peterson’s 224 yards rushing, the +3 turnover margin, AND Peterson’s 50+ yard kickoff return late in the fourth quarter to set up Ryan Longwell’s 54 yard field goal as time expired…just to win the game.
Even in that memorable 2009 season that saw the Vikings get to the cusp of the Super Bowl, not even Brett Favre could coax a win for the Vikings in Soldier Field, losing in overtime after a dramatic second half comeback. And since that game, each Chicago loss in the Windy City has been brutally one sided, for the most part.
In 2010 they lost 27-13. Brett Favre threw three picks, and it was the beginning of the end for him. The Vikes got curbstomped 39-10 in ’11, as Adrian Peterson was stuffed and Donovan McNabb’s career came to an ignominious ending. Last year the Bears jumped all over the Vikings and were up 25-3 by halftime, cruising to a 28-10 win.
Not only are the Vikings not winning in Chicago, they haven’t even been competitive the last three years. So needless to say, I’m not optimistic about the Vikings chances on Sunday.
And that leads me to my next point. Since becoming the starter in 2011 after the Chicago debacle, Christian Ponder has gone 1-5 in road games against NFC North opponents as the starter. And much like the team’s performance on the road in Chicago, the Vikings on the road in the NFC North have been Coyote Ugly.
In 2011, the Vikings were humiliated 45-7 in Green Bay. In Detroit, his performance was so unsteady he was benched in favor of Joe Webb, giving the Spiderman movement a rallying cry that became a full throated warble around these parts for awhile.
Last year, a 20-13 win against the Lions was thanks to two touchdowns on special teams in a 20-13 victory (105 yard opening kickoff by Percy Harvin and a punt return by Marcus Sherels). The two losses were the aforementioned loss to the Bears, and the first significant ‘crisis of confidence’ game we had for Ponder. It was a 23-14 loss to the Packers where he threw for only 119 yards, a completion percentage under 50%, an inability to complete a pass for over two quarters, and he had two back breaking interceptions, one in the Packers end zone. It was a game that many Vikings fans thought was eminently winnable, and it seemed to be the turning point for many as to whether or not Ponder was the long term answer at quarterback. Last week, of course, was the loss to the Lions to get to 1-5.
In those games, Ponder's aggregate line has been 177 attempts, 95 completions (53% completion percentage), 930 yards, 5 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. That's an average line per game of 15/29, 155 yards, not quite one TD and almost two intercptions.
That will not get it done on the road in the NFL, and that has got to change, starting Sunday.
And all of that leads me to my final point. Assuming the worst (and I think I've laid out a strong case to think the Vikes are in trouble come Sunday), the Vikings will begin the season 0-2, and that would be the sixth 0-2 start in nine seasons, Why is 0-2 such a big deal?
In the NFL, if you start 0-2, you have a ten percent chance of making the post-season. That’s not a gut feeling, that’s not speculation; that’s just a fact. When the NFL expanded their playoff system to the current format in 1990, 208 teams have gone to the playoffs. Of those 208 teams making the post-season, 22…just 22…started 0-2. Granted, the Vikings were one of those 0-2 teams (2008), but they were one and done, beaten by, ironically, Donovan McNabb and the Philadelphia Eagles.
It’s borderline ludicrous to say that Sunday is almost a must win game, but it clearly is. 1-1 with Cleveland and a vulnerable Pittsburgh, the bye, and then Carolina on the docket looks manageable, if not even favorable. They have a tough schedule, but if they can somehow get by Chicago and make it to 4-1, they have a shot.
If they go 0-2, I would argue that they have no shot.
Well, a one in 10 shot.