Wikipedia defines the phrase "suspension of disbelief" as follows:
A term coined in 1817 by the poet and aesthetic philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who suggested that if a writer could infuse a "human interest and a semblance of truth" into a fantastic tale, the reader would suspend judgement concerning the implausibility of the narrative. Suspension of disbelief often applies to fictional works of the action, comedy, fantasy, and horror genres.
The 2015 Minnesota Vikings season has indeed been a fantastic tale. It has also been a work of action, comedy, fantasy, and horror depending on the week. From the season-opening stink bomb at San Francisco to the home drubbings of Detroit and San Diego to the narrow loss at Denver to the five-game win streak that dismissed playoff pretenders to the home clunkers against Green Bay and Seattle to the heartbreaker in Arizona to the butt whooping of the Bears last week, the Vikings should be charging admission at Valleyfair with all their rapid ups and downs. Thankfully it seems like they are working towards a peak at the right time. The beat-up defense is barely missing a beat without three of their best players and the offense is starting to click thanks to a couple impressive games from their young quarterback.
Thanks to the unbelievable antics of the New York Giants' most dangerous weapon, the continued ascension for the Vikings may have become significantly easier. Odell Beckham Jr. makes football fans lose their minds on a weekly basis with his amazing catches. Last Sunday against Josh Norman and the Panthers, Beckham lost his mind. Several times.
Seriously. OBJ lost his damn mind.
His head-first launch into the side of Norman's helmet was Beckham's third personal foul of the game. He was completely out of control for the entire contest. One would have to suspend disbelief that OBJ wasn't ejected from the game; if Tom Coughlin was still alive he would have pulled Beckham after the second incident. The NFL came down with a one-game suspension, which Beckham is still appealing at the time of this posting. If you don't think the loss of one dynamic wide receiver can change the outcome of a game, Las Vegas begs to differ: the betting line moved a full three points after Beckham's suspension was announced. (The outcomes of millions of fantasy championships have likely changed as well.) OBJ is a special talent that can change the game in a heartbeat. He was the Madden 16 cover athlete with good reason--he's practically video game incarnate. Beckham can turn nearly any play into a huge gain.
The loss of Beckham will hurt for sure but the cupboard isn't completely bare for New York. Rueben Randle, Hakeem Nicks, and Dwayne Harris are still serviceable. Eli Manning can still wing it all over the field when he's on his game. And the G-Men actually have a bit of a running game too. Rashad Jennings has been running well behind some impressive blocking by the Giants offensive line lately. The more I watched film of the past couple games the more I was surprised at some of the holes Jennings and his teammates have had to run through.
One dirty little secret about the Vikings defense this season is that they haven't stopped the run all that well. They are 23rd in the NFL in yards allowed per carry and ranked 20th in run defense from Football Outsiders. Grabbing another early lead and forcing Eli into some of his patented boneheaded passes might be more important than we think.
That said, what the Vikings are doing on defense without their key players has been impressive. Since the status of Harrison Smith, Linval Joesph, and Anthony Barr are still in question for this game, you'd have to suspend disbelief to accept how well the Vikings defense is playing without its stars. They gave the high-flying Cardinals everything they could handle and frustrated Jay Cutler and the Bears through the entirety of last week's game. The coverage sack early in the Chicago game perfectly illustrated the kind of team defense Minnesota is capable of playing even when depleted by injury.
I have a feeling Smith, Joseph, Barr, and perhaps even Xavier Rhodes will be "gametime decisions" leading up to the game Sunday night. Depending on the results earlier in the day, the game could actually mean very little to the Vikings. If the Cardinals beat the Packers and either Carolina or Seattle wins, Minnesota is in and the Week 17 game at Lambeau will be for the NFC North title no matter what. If Green Bay wins in Arizona, I think those stars will suddenly be good to go against New York. Mike Zimmer really wants that potential third Packers game of the season to be at TCF.
It's really hard to believe none of those defensive studs made the Pro Bowl. Only Adrian Peterson was selected to the squad, making the Vikings the only winning team in the NFL that had one or fewer players picked for the squad. The Pro Bowl has become a highly publicized joke over the past several years, kind of like Tara Reid's acting career. But you better believe that Zimmer will use those snubs as bulletin board material moving forward.
The Vikings offense should be able to move forward with ease against the Giants defense if they keep playing like they have in the past couple games. The Giants are ranked 27th in defensive DVOA and have the second worst adjusted sack rate in the league according to Football Outsiders. It's no secret that keeping Teddy Bridgewater upright has been a key to Vikings success this season. Minnesota has allowed 14 sacks in their nine victories and 25 sacks in their five losses. There is no suspension of disbelief needed to realize that the Giants are a favorable matchup for the Vikings offense.
The matchup gets even more favorable when Norv Turner is calling plays that best fit his team's personnel. Turner has been dialing up more play action, bootlegs, and quick-hit passes lately. All three methods are great for assisting a poor pass blocking line and allowing Bridgewater to do some of the things he does best. This play from last Sunday wasn't a huge gain but it epitomizes what has worked well for the offense lately.
Of course that play action works best when Peterson is running well. There has been a lot of talk that the Vikings are better served when AP isn't getting the ball as much. While I believe that Jerick McKinnon should continue to get more snaps in the passing game, I can't suspend disbelief for that theory. The offense still runs through Peterson, pun intended. He can become a hindrance to the offense when the Vikings are too predictable and force feed him the ball; hopefully Norv can counteract that by passing on more than three of 24 first downs this week.
There is also a theory going around on #VikingsTwitter that Peterson can't run in the cold. (Our pal @JZHoodie is probably the most notable champion of this notion.) His 45-yard performance against Green Bay before Thanksgiving fueled the belief that AP is strictly a warm-weather runner. It made sense to me; Peterson has shared his negative feelings about the Minnesota weather before and I didn't remember many good performances when you could see the players' breath.
Thanks to the query builder at Pro Football Reference, I discovered that he simply hasn't played in many cold-weather games. In fact, the Green Bay game was only the fifth game Peterson has played in his career when the temperature at kickoff was below freezing. (Remember, he missed all the fun at TCF last season thanks to his "exemption.") And in those 5 games, he's averaging a line of 22.6/100.4/1 even after the low output against Green Bay earlier this season. So don't be alarmed that the gametime temperature will be in the teens. AP is an all-weather runner. We should be much more concerned about Tom Coughlin's face turning into Red Skull.
While the temperature may not have a negative affect on the Vikings' performance, the time might. I hate to bring this subject up again, but perhaps the biggest suspension of disbelief is needed to acknowledge the Vikings' abysmal record in primetime games. Since the beginning of the 2009 season, the Vikings are 3-18 when the eyes of the nation are upon them. Which means you can still count the Vikings' primetime victories over the past seven seasons on Jason Pierre-Paul's hand. On Sunday, I believe the Vikings will prove that the 22nd time is the charm. They're going to take care of business at home and finally show the country what they're capable of. They're going to clinch a playoff spot with a week to spare. They aren't going to give Vikings fans a lump of coal in their purple stockings on Christmas weekend.
And they're going to Lambeau next week with a shot at taking the NFC North title.
You better believe it.
Vikings 30, Giants 20
And now for the rest of my Week 16 NFL picks (home teams in ALL CAPS):
RAIDERS over Chargers
Drink some eggnog every time you hear the words "Los Angeles" on the broadcast this Christmas Eve game. You'll have sugar plums dancing in your head by halftime.
Redskins over EAGLES
Washington is a better team, but I worry that an NFC East team going over .500 might rip the space-time continuum.
Panthers over FALCONS
The bad news for Atlanta: this will knock them out of the playoffs. The good news: it probably won't be worse than the 38-0 game two weeks ago.
BILLS over Cowboys
Don't worry, Dallas. There's an easy solution for your woes. As New England, Minnesota, and Buffalo have all proven, it gets increasingly better the further you get away from Matt Cassel.
BUCCANEERS over Bears
Judging from what we saw from Chicago last week, some of their players might just stay in Florida for vacation after this game.
CHIEFS over Browns
LIONS over 49ers
If anyone tells you they're excited for this game, they're obviously Lion.
Texans over TITANS
Tennessee needs to keep losing so they can draft the best help available for Marcus Mariota. I don't want him turning into Robert Griffin IV.
Colts over DOLPHINS
Matt Hasselbeck's career is entering "THROW THE DAMN TOWEL!" territory. Luckily for him, Miami threw in the damn towel about a month ago.
Patriots over JETS
Death, taxes, Marcus Sherels making the Vikings roster, and the Pats getting a first round bye. Another certainty: the Gratuitous Picture of the Week.
Steelers over RAVENS
Pittsburgh is on fire and Baltimore is a dumpster fire. Yet somehow this will still be a three-point game. Probably because I made this my Survivor Pool pick of the week, which is now UNDER .500 and on a five-game losing streak.
Jaguars over SAINTS
Although it would be incredibly fitting for Blake Bortles to throw for 800 yards against the worst defense in the league and still have Jacksonville lose the game.
CARDINALS over Packers
Of course Honey Badger goes down for the season right before the Green Bay game. Sam Bradford is so prodigious at tearing ACLs that he's starting to do it to opponents.
SEAHAWKS over Rams
If St. Louis can pull off another upset of Seattle, anyone that faces the Hawks in the playoffs should buy St. Louis uniforms because they are obviously made of kryptonite.
BRONCOS over Bengals
"STILL-start-ing-in-the-play-offs." --Peyton Manning
Last week: 10-6
Season so far: 140-86