Hi kids, are we hanging in there?
For those of you that are just going through your first heartbreak as a Minnesota Vikings fan, just know that it’ll get better. For those of us that have been down this road far too often...hey, at least the game was essentially over by halftime, so it’s not a kick in the teeth like other losses have been. I’m already moving on, and this game really isn’t lingering like 2009 or 1998 did (and still does for ‘98).
The thing we take solace in generally runs along the lines of ‘well, we got this close, almost everyone is coming back, so we’ll be right back here again next year.’
Only...in hasn’t worked out that way for many teams that fell short in the NFC Championship. there’s a lot of reasons why—coaching changes, roster turnover, ‘lighning in a bottle’ seasons not replicating, injuries, etc. Let’s take a look at some recent NFC Championship runners up and see how they fared. We’ll start with the Vikings most recent appearance before Sunday, the 2009 NFC Championship game against the New Or[F*** THOSE GUYS]ints
2009 NFC Championship: Eff Those Guys 31, Minnesota 28 (OT)
2010 Vikings, 6-10, 4th place NFC North: Talk about a hangover. Head coach Brad Childress was fired after consecutive blowout losses to the Bears and Packers, the Metrodome collapsed and remaining ‘home’ games were played in Detroit and at TCF Bank Stadium, a Monday (Sunday?) night game against Philly had to be played on a Tuesday because of a blizzard, and Brett Favre’s 2009 Deal With The Devil season expired in week one of 2010. The Vikings didn’t make the playoffs again until 2012.
2010 NFC Championship: Green Bay 21, Chicago 14
2011 Bears, 8-8, 3rd place NFC North: QB Jay Cutler followed up a ‘mostly good’ Jay Cutler season by getting the Bears out to a 7-3 start, then broke his thumb and missed the last six games. The Bears lost five straight and finished 8-8, haven’t made the playoffs since, and just hired their third coach since Lovie Smith coached the 2011 Bears.
2011 NFC Championship: New York 20, San Francisco, 17
2012 NFC Championship: San Francisco 28, Atlanta 24
2013 Falcons, 4-12, 3rd place NFC South: The Falcons cratered in 2013, as Michael Turner retired and the Falcons went with Stephen Jackson, who turned out to be a shell of his former self. The big loss, though, was WR Julio Jones, who only played five games, and the Falcons passing offense went from a top five unit to 20th.
2013 NFC Championship: Seattle 23, San Francisco 17
2014 49ers, 8-8, 3rd place NFC West: the backbone of the Harbaugh-era 49ers teams was efficient QB play from Colin Kaepernick and a top defense, led by Aldon Smith, Navarro Bowman and Patrick Willis. Smith was suspended eight games, Willis only played in six games due to injury, Bowman missed the whole season due to injury, and the 49ers fell out of contention. After 2014 Harbaugh was pushed out and the 49ers became one of the worst franchises in the NFL until Jimmy GQ arrived like a conquering hero midway through 2017.
2014 NFC Championship: Seattle 28, Green Bay 22
2015 Packers: 10-6, 2nd place NFC North, lost in divisional playoff: The Vikings won their first division title under Mike Zimmer in 2015, but the Packers made it back to the playoffs in 2015 as a wild card, and advanced farther than the Vikings. They beat the brakes off the Washington Redskins in the Wild Card round, but lost to Arizona the following week in overtime.
2015 NFC Championship: Carolina 49, Arizona 15
2016 Cardinals: 7-8-1, 2nd place NFC West: Where everything clicked for the Cardinals in 2015 until the NFC Championship, in 2016 they were just off. David Johnson emerged as a top running back, but Carson Palmer couldn’t replicate his incredible 2015 season. they scored less, turned the ball over more, and just never got on track, losing or tying six games by six points or less after going undefeated in those games (4-0 including playoffs) the previous year.
2016 NFC Championship: Atlanta 44, Green Bay 21
2017 Packers: 7-9, 3rd place NFC North. Green Bay looked to be on another Super Bowl run, starting off at 4-1. But when Aaron Rodgers got hurt in week five against the Vikings, Brett Hundley stepped in and, well, wasn’t Rodgers. He kept the Packers afloat and got them to 7-6, though, and gave the Packers hope. When Rodgers returned in week 15 a lot of folks thought The Pack had a chance to win their last three games and sneak in to the playoffs. They lost that game to Carolina, Rodgers was put back on IR, and the Packers lost their remaining two games with Hundley back starting.
Yes, it takes talent to make it to the final four, and you also need a little bit of luck in terms of the ball bouncing your way and steering clear of injuries. In recent years, only two of seven teams were able to navigate back to the playoffs, and only one got back to the NFC Championship after falling short the previous year.
I’m not discounting the Vikings in 2018 out of hand, though. they have a lot of things going for them, even if there’s going to be some turnover. Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur is gone to take the Giants head coaching job, but in his end of season press conference Mike Zimmer stated that he doesn’t expect any other coaching losses. On defense, the Vikings will have every starter back under contract except Tom Johnson. Brian Robison will probably retire, and that will be a huge locker room presence gone, though.
On offense, it looks like Jerick McKinnon won’t be back, and his loss will be a big one. I think they can find a guy in either free agency or the draft the can assume his role, though, and with Dalvin Cook coming back hopefully his loss will be a minimal impact. At least much less that when Cester Taylor left after 2009. We all thought that wasn’t going to be a big deal...but it turned out to be a big deal.
Quarterback is the big issue, but they have three good options to pick from, and there are also some free agents that could be really intriguing of the Vikes decide to go off menu. On the line, Joe Berger has hinted that he’s going to retire, but I think Danny Isidora, with a full off season in the Vikings program, is going to be a beast next year. Plus they’ll have a lot of cap space and they have a first round pick again, so they’ll have a lot of options to address what needs they can’t fill in free agency.
It’s going to be tough to get back to these heights, and there’s going to be more changes. But GM Rick Spielman has given the Vikings have a really solid foundation, much like the Packers and 49ers teams that made it back did.
I like their chances. Skol Vikings.