Life is a funny thing. Sometimes, we don’t realize that we’re living in one of the moments we will look back with fondness years from now until that moment is gone. Something about not being able to see the forest for the trees and all that. Other times, you can tell something fun or special is happening, and you’re able to appreciate and savor the moment, like a perfectly prepared steak paired with your favorite beer.
That’s been the 2017 Minnesota Vikings season for me. As the season unfolded, and the wins kept piling up after the early season injuries to Sam Bradford and Dalvin Cook, the Vikings kept building, it felt like the Vikings kept getting better and better.
That’s because they were, as they only lost one time after the mid-season bye, and for their efforts they ended up 13-3, with a first round bye. It’s the first 13-3 finish in franchise history, and the first time they’ve won at least 13 games since 2009. And for their efforts they get a week off and then a home playoff game, when 28 other teams in the NFL don’t get that opportunity. Who says you can’t go home again, right Jon and Jennifer?
Who says you can't go home
There's only one place they call me one of their own
Just a hometown boy, born a rolling stone, who says you can't go home
Who says you can't go back, been all around the world and as a matter of fact
There's only one place left I want to go, who says you can't go home
It's alright, it's alright, it's alright, it's alright, its alright
Your SMR that’s got at least one home playoff game follows.
Blue Chip Stocks:
Trae Waynes, CB: The Waynes turnaround is one of the more remarkable storylines in a remarkable season. He came into the season with a lot more doubters than supporters, it seemed, and in many ways his season paralleled the team’s season. He had an uneven beginning, but got better and better with each week. Today was probably his best overall game as a Viking, registering two pass break ups, was solid in coverage, and had another fantastic one on one open field tackle. I jokingly said a couple weeks ago that Waynes was as good a tackler as Antoine Winfield...he’s not, but he’s as good a tackler in the secondary the Vikings have had since Winfield, and he’s getting better.
Ryan Quigley, P: One of the things that’s really important in the playoffs is field position. Post-season games are generally close, low scoring affairs, and being able to flip field position is important. It’s going to be a tall order for any offense to go the length of the field against the Vikings defense, and Ryan Quigley has done a fantastic job of pinning teams deep and making them drive the field all season long. He did it again Sunday, and finished the season with zero touchbacks.
Anthony Barr, LB: Barr was flying around like a man possessed Sunday. He was everywhere, and it seemed that whenever the Vikings defense was making a big play or tackle, it was Barr making it, or re-directing a runner so someone else could make the play. If Barr’s 2016 season was emblematic of the team’s 2016 season as a whole, then his revival in 2017 has been just as emblematic. The Vikings defense isn’t a one man show, but how the linebackers perform in this double A gap defense goes a long way in determining the success of the unit. And this year? Barr, Eric Kendricks, and rookie Ben Gedeon and his magnificent mustache have been the spine of the book that has told this year’s story.
Latavius Murray, RB: On a day when the offense struggled after the first couple drives, Murray was the go to guy that kept the offense from completely folding. He’s become the alpha dog back this year, and cash money on the goal line, scoring twice from the one yard line Sunday. When the offense had to get a first down to kill the clock and go to their victory formation, Murray ripped off consecutive runs of 18 and 22 yards, sealing the win and the second seed.
Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, WR’s: One was an undrafted free agent that amassed over 1,200 yards receiving and made an extra million dollars in incentives by getting to 90 receptions. The other was a fifth round pick that’s only the fastest Viking receiver ever to 200 career receptions. Yeah, more than Randy Moss, more than Anthony Carter, more than Jake Reed...and more than Troy Williamson. Thielen had over 20 catches of 20 yards or more this year, and Diggs had another TD reception today. When the season began a lot of folks were thinking ‘teams better not sleep on these two’, but I don’t think anyone in their right minds saw them develop as a tandem quite like this.
Case Keenum, QB: I’m not saying Case Keenum is the MVP of the NFL...but I am saying he deserves to have his case argued before the MVP Supreme Court. Other guys have put up better numbers, but a QB rating of 98.1 and 21 TD’s to 7 interceptions are impressive even if they aren’t league leading, as is a completion percentage of 67%. And quite simply, there is simply no way the Vikings are 13-3 without Keenum. You watch the game and you think ‘he had kind of a pedestrian day’, and then you look at the stat sheet and he was 21/29 with 189 yards, a TD to Diggs, and no picks. It feels like Keenum has gotten a little bit more conservative over the last 3-4 games, but when you’re trying to lock down a first round bye minimizing the chance for a mistake isn’t a bad course of action.
Pat Shurmur, OC: I get that the Bears are a top 10 defense in both yards and points against, and I also get that when your defense scores more points than the Bears offense and your punter gives the best defense in the NFL a 95 yard cushion to work with, you don’t want to take a lot of unnecessary risks. But...and maybe it was just me...but it felt like once the Vikings went up 14-0 Shurmur went extra special conservative, and was just willing to stick and move, shuffle around the ring, and win the fight on points. I never felt like the Bears were going to challenge, even after their WHOOP DE WHOOOOOOOP punt fake return, and the Vikings answered with a third quarter TD.
And there’s a really good chance the Vikings offense has been going kind of vanilla and doing just enough to get it done without revealing too much for the playoffs. I get all that, I really do. But man, it would’ve been nice to open up the playbook just a little and add another TD or field goal. But then Fox would have cut away to another game, so....yeah.
Buy: The Vikings defense has been dominant to close out the regular season. This is a defense that can look the best of the Purple People Eaters in the eyes and not blink, but what they did after the loss to Carolina has been nothing short of amazing. In 180 minutes of football, they have allowed one offensive touchdown, and that was on a short field, leading 34-0, after a turnover. They are a truly dominant defense, tops in the NFL in points and yards against, and are going to be ferocious at home during the playoffs.
Sell: The Vikings offense has been dominant to close out the regular season. It feels like the offense has taken their foot off the gas the last couple of weeks, though. That said, the last two weeks were either tough weather conditions, or a tough defense, and to their credit they’ve done enough to get it done and win. Still, the big play explosiveness from earlier in the season has been missing the last two weeks, and it would have nice to have had a few big plays while the game was still meaningful.
Buy: The Vikings can overcome 10 penalties against the Bears. One of the reasons the offense was a bit uneven was because penalties killed them again, a problem that’s reared up a few times this season. It cost them more than one first down/big play, but hey, it was a Bears team with a Dead Man Walking as a head coach.
Sell: The Vikings can overcome 10 penalties in the playoffs. But do that in the playoffs, though, and you’re gonna have a bad day. There are no bad teams with coaches on their way to the gallows, mistakes are magnified, and penalties that kill a potential scoring drive on offense or extend one on defense are penalties that can haunt a team for months or years.
Buy: This has been a great season, regardless of what happens from here on out. As soon as Sam Bradford and Dalvin Cook went down early in the season, I took the attitude that this team was playing with house money the rest of the year. I don’t think anyone saw 13-3 after that, but this team rallied behind a good group of players and the best coach in the NFL, and damn near ran the table after the Vikings lost Cook and fell to 2-2. No matter what happens, this has been one of my all time favorite seasons for this team, from the Zim Reapers defense, to the unheralded offense lighting it up, to winning on Thanksgiving, to sweeping Green Bay, to going 13-3 for the first time in franchise history. It’s been a hell of a lot of fun to watch and write about this team.
Sell: I want this great season to be over in January. But...yeah. Just one before I die. Just one, that’s all I want. I don’t want a dynasty, although I won’t say no to one, and I don’t care if they go 16-0 and set every record the game has to offer...although I wouldn’t say no to that, either. I mean I’m not a moron, after all. But the fact remains this team is the best all around Vikings team since the 1970’s, and it feels like something special is going on here. They have an offense that can win a shootout, and a defense that can shut out anyone. If both are on...I honestly believe there isn’t a team that can beat them, and with the playoffs lining up the way they are, it feels like fate, while it might not be smiling on this team, sure isn’t laughing and giving it the finger, either.
Buy: Everything Mike Zimmer is selling right now. He is part coach, part motivator, part fan base psychologist. He knows the history of this franchise, and sent a message to everyone today. And for a guy that has had his fair share of ‘woe is me’ moments with this team and their history, it struck the perfect tone with me:
Sell: There’s a more deserving Coach of the Year candidate than Mike Zimmer. I had a lot of thoughts rolling around my head as to why Zim should be the Coach Of The Year, but had a hard time coherently listing them. Then I saw my friend Andy’s tweet, and it was perfect:
Mike Zimmer has a HISTORICALLY great defense, lost his top draft pick early, and went 13-3 with his 3rd choice at QB.— Andy (@AndyCarlsonShow) December 31, 2017
Sean McVay fixed Jeff Fisher's f-ups and is intentionally losing a game Week 17 to delay facing Mike Zimmer's team. Again.
Zimmer is Coach of the Damn Year
There is a lot of coaching uncertainty in the NFC North right now. John Fox has been fired and Jim Caldwell is rumored to be. Green Bay’s defensive coordinator could very well be on the way out, and a good portion of their fans want wholesale changes. But in Minnesota, Mike Zimmer is closer to the beginning of his tenure as coach than the ending of it, and the Vikings just keep getting better.
It’s a good time to be a Vikings fan, boys and girls.